Joni Mitchell is a language. This language is not made of words and sounds. It's a language of understanding. It is the language of people with the most crusty and guarded hearts but never be fooled by that protective layer - it's only disguising and shielding wonderfully open and expansive hearts.
Through Joni Mitchell's music we were given a road map to understand the furthest and darkest corners of the human experience - and our own experiences. Packed away in our emotional garages are all our terrors, traumas, hurts, fractures, and bruises. These are both the most meaningful and the least meaningful things in the world. It's everything and nothing. It all matters and it doesn't mean shit. Through Joni's music we were given a compass to understand the importance and futility of it all.
When Joni had her aneurysm in 2015 it seemed to be the final chapter in the story. She'd left us a body of work to forever return to but I remember feeling lost without her to lead me forward. Even when Joni retired from music for the tenth time I still felt a kinship with her as she gave those snarky and bitchy interviews. She might have quit releasing new songs of truth but damn there was a lot of truth in those interviews. In a world that's increasingly scripted, curated, and cautious, Joni never hesitated to verbally let it rip. She was the high profile lighthouse of truth in a deep dark society of bullshit.
Then we had a lot of years without Joni. We were always looking for her, and wondering, and worrying. And we continued to play the old songs. Sometimes we made new memories to the old songs. Often we found a new truths in old lines that hit differently at a different age. Joni is the gift that keeps on giving.
All of us Joni fans know the story of the last few years - the increasing public appearances, the emergence of Brandi Carlile, the archives, singing one line at a show, then the Newport Folk Festival, then the announcement of Joni's first headlining concert in twenty years. In a world where the magic seems to be ever-shrinking and the hope seems to be ever-fading - Joni Mitchell emerges for one more glorious curtain call.
And who are we now since the last time Joni was with us? How have we all changed and grown in that last decade? The scabs over our bruises are thicker. The flesh has healed over our wounds and hidden some scars. In this age of division and anxiety we have scuttled off to the protection of our tribes, or to seclusion, or to complete silence. It's been a hell of a ten years. In the past ten years so many people I know have died. Addiction. Suicide. Covid. And we are the ones who survived. Through we all bring a different story to the table - a new and unexpected relationship forms with Joni Mitchell as we get the opportunity to experience today as survivors alongside each other.
And damn I needed that hope. If Joni can survive all of that - then hell yes I can survive all of this. The lighthouse has returned. The dark and dank sea once again has a beacon.
All of us Joni fans of course were going to be at the concert. This became our Hejira. And we came from every corner of the globe. We flew into an airport in a far corner of this expansive country. We drove three hours through mountains and gullies and desolation. I felt a kinship with the barren and gloomy landscapes of Washington State. The view outside my window felt a lot like the pieces of myself I keep tucked away inside. And I'll always keep them tucked away - I'd torture no audience with an emotional purge. We all have that desolation inside ourselves. Joni Mitchell gave a voice to it. Joni also gave us the blueprint on how to not be defined or defeated by our desolation.
And that was the power of spending a weekend with people who spoke the language of Joni Mitchell. The biggest f-ing smiles in the world. The snarkiest good hearted jokes. Razor-sharp wit and cutting retorts. We came together as a fierce tribe of survivors (though we'd never probably actually call ourselves survivors out loud) to eat, drink, and be with Joni. There is no need to acknowledge the muck that lies in all of us. We all know it's there. We've carried it our whole lives. But the sheer magic is to share space with people who never have to say it because we all just know.
I knew this moment could possibly be the best moment of my life. I was sitting on a blanket in front of a van on top of a mountain. My friends were playing guitar and singing. I was drinking a Coke Zero and doing my Natalie Merchant hippie dance to Joni Mitchell covers. The sky was blue with puffy white clouds. The air was fresh and innocent. I'd never felt so strongly in my life that this was my tribe and this was a moment to commit to memory second by second. I was on top of a mountain with my people and we were about to see a Joni Mitchell concert in the year 2023. This is the best that life will ever get.
I'm not going to bother to find words that can properly capture the moment Joni Mitchell emerged on stage. No words are sufficient. And Annie Lennox. And Wendy and Lisa. And Sarah McLachlan. And Brandi Carlile showing sincere warmth and protectiveness as she sat across from Joni. Sorry it took us so long to trust you Brandi, but Joni is our most sacred treasure. It took us seeing it in person to feel relief that she is in good hands.
Lots of laughter on the van ride home. And in the diner the next day. And on the ride to the airport. The greatest barometer of someone's genuineness, depth, experience is how funny they are. I sat in the presence of greatness.
Then the highway turned into the airport which turned into a plane ride which turned into work on Monday back on the other corner of the country. I sat and cried at my desk today. I had forgotten how great the world can feel. But just like she did in 1993, 2003, and 2013, Joni Mitchell reminded me.
All of us who speak the language of Joni Mitchell - we might never want to bother saying how battle worn we are out loud, but one thing we can always say is how much we love Joni. And each other.
Yes Joni - we love you.
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Added to Library on June 13, 2023. (1149)
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