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Joni Mitchell Leads With Her Music Print-ready version

She's always been a powerful voice for women, and even a health crisis could not stop her. And at 79, she is performing again.

by Jon Friedman
Next Avenue
August 15, 2023

Joni Mitchell, 1972 | Credit: Joni Mitchell/Twitter

"This generation's Joni Mitchell is Joni Mitchell." - Cameron Crowe

Welcome to Joni Mitchell Mania. The Bard of Canada is back.

After years of staying out of the public eye, Joni seems to be everywhere. To the delight of her fans, she made a surprise appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 2022. A live album of her set is said to be in the works.

"There's nothing scarier than playing songs you wrote in front of Joni Mitchell," Carlile said on stage.

This year, she positively thrilled people. On March 31, 2023, she was featured on PBS celebrating her honor as a recipient of The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

On June 10, she headlined the "Joni Jam" at the Gorge Amphitheater in Washington State, which also featured Grammy winner Brandi Carlile, who, at 42, is 37 years younger than Joni Mitchell.

"There's nothing scarier than playing songs you wrote in front of Joni Mitchell," Carlile said on stage.

Cameron Crowe, who directed the critically acclaimed rock and roll-themed movie "Almost Famous" in 2000, is hoping to make a biopic about Mitchell.

At 70, the singer-songwriter, who has recovered from a 2020 stroke, finds new ways to live creatively and has a memoir and an album to show for it

A Rare Celebrity

It's easy to see why Mitchell continues to arouse such strong feelings. She is the rarest kind of celebrity: an icon who actually stands for something. She has an uncanny way of making her fans, particularly women, relate to her songs. Joni appeals to people on an emotional level.

She has integrity. The work is an end in itself, not the accompanying adulation or fame or money. You get the feeling that if her career had not taken off, she'd still be "singing real good, for free," as one of her signature songs goes.

One of her accomplishments over the past six decades has been to show women, especially the musicians and writers who followed in her path, that their voice is as meaningful as that of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and other men.

The breadth of her catalog is staggering: "Both Sides Now," "Big Yellow Taxi," "The Circle Game," "Morning Morgantown" (my favorite song of hers), "Woodstock," "A Case of You," "Free Man in Paris," "Help Me," "Raised on Robbery," "Coyote" and so many more signature songs.

As Joni might sum up the past decade of her life: You don't know what you've got till it's gone. In March 2015, Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm rupture. She had to have extensive physical therapy as she learned to walk and talk again. She made only a handful of public appearances as she recuperated.

A Six-Decade Career

In the past year, Joni has been doing what she has done so well throughout her six-decade music career: using her voice and words to serve as a role model, and lead by example.

Allison Rapp, who attended the concert, wrote on the Ultimate Classic Rock website: "Dressed in red robes, a black beret and her signature braids, Mitchell sipped her favorite Pinot Grigio from a thermos and tapped her cane along to the beat as she sang with a voice deepened with age.

'Thank you for coming,' she said, 'You're a beautiful audience, I'm glad to be here.'"

"Joni Mitchell is a cornerstone of my musical upbringing. I was probably 10 or 11 years old when a childhood friend of mine showed me some tracks from 'Blue.'"

What's telling about Rapp's review, too, is that she is only 24 years old and yet is as much of a hardcore Joni Mitchell fan as people two or three times her age. Rapp described seeing the concert as "a total dream come true. Like most of her fans, I assumed Joni's touring days were over for good. So to see her sitting on a stage, singing songs that have soundtracked a lot of my life, that was a magical moment."

In an interview, Rapp told me: "Joni Mitchell is a cornerstone of my musical upbringing. I was probably 10 or 11 years old when a childhood friend of mine showed me some tracks from "Blue." This was the era in which people my age spent a lot of time just surfing YouTube, for hours."

"As I got older, that album took on more and more meaning for me, and Joni in general was a large part of the reason I picked up a guitar in the first place," said Rapp. "Not necessarily because I wanted to be just like her - I knew that wasn't possible, haha, though I did literally get bangs because I wanted to look like a combination of her and Stevie Nicks - but because she showed me how much emotional release and growth can be found in writing songs and singing about your own life."

Call Joni's lyrics lessons in poetry or songwriting or prose or literature. All of those descriptions fit. The point is that women of all ages have found common ground in Joni's music for more than 50 years: the pain and betrayal that accompanies a bitter breakup ("Coyote"), the world-weary understanding, always, that life goes on ("The Circle Game"), the appreciation of self-reliance ("Free Man in Paris") and the importance of belonging to a community ("Ladies of the Canyon"). And so much more.

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Added to Library on August 16, 2023. (428)


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