I went to Staten Island, Sharon
To buy myself a mandolin
And I saw the long white dress of love
On a storefront mannequin
Big boat chuggin' back with a belly full of cars
All for something lacy
Some girl's going to see that dress
And crave that day like crazy
Little Indian kids on a bridge up in Canada
They can balance and they can climb
Like their fathers before them
They'll walk the girders of the Manhattan skyline
Shine your light on me Miss Liberty
Because as soon as this ferry boat docks
I'm headed to the church
To play Bingo
Fleece me with the gamblers' flocks
I can keep my cool at poker
But I'm a fool when love's at stake
Because I can't conceal emotion
What I'm feeling's always written on my face
There's a gypsy down on Bleecker Street
I went in to see her as a kind of joke
And she lit a candle for my love luck
And eighteen bucks went up in smoke
Sharon I left my man
At a North Dakota junction
And I came out to the "Big Apple" here
To face the dream's malfunction
Love's a repetitious danger
You'd think I'd be accustomed to
Well I do accept the changes
At least better than I used to do
A woman I knew just drowned herself
The well was deep and muddy
She was just shaking off futility
Or punishing somebody
My friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions
It seems we all live so close to that line
and so far from satisfaction
Dora says "Have children"
Mama and Betsy say "Find yourself a charity
Help the needy and the crippled or put some time into Ecology"
Well there's a wide wide world of noble causes
And lovely landscapes to discover
But all I really want to do right now
Is find another lover
When we were kids in Maidstone, Sharon
I went to every wedding in that little town
To see the tears and the kisses
And the pretty lady in the white lace wedding gown
And walking home on the railroad tracks
Or swinging on the playground swing
Love stimulated my illusions
More than anything
And when I went skating after Golden Reggie
You know it was white lace I was chasing
Mama's nylons underneath my cowgirl jeans
He showed me first you get the kisses
And then you get the tears
But the ceremony of the bells and lace
Still veils this reckless fool here
Now there are twenty-nine skaters on Wollman Rink *
Circling in singles and in pairs
In this vigorous anonymity
A blank face at the window stares and
stares and stares and stares and stares
And the power of reason
And the flowers of deep feeling
Seem to serve me
Only to deceive me
Sharon you've got a husband
And a family and a farm
I've got the apple of temptation
And a diamond snake around my arm
But you still have your music
And I've still got my eyes on the land and the sky
You sing for your friends and your family
I'll walk green pastures by and by
© September 2, 1976; Crazy Crow Music (as
The following is a letter to the editor that appeared in the April 1997 issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine:
Q: I was listening the other day to Joni Mitchell's Hejira album, and I was struck by these lines in "Song for Sharon": "I went to Staten Island, Sharon / To buy myself a mandolin / And I saw the long white dress of love / On a store-front mannequin." Now, I've been listening to this album for years, but it just now occurred to me that these lyrics may refer to the Mandolin Brothers store in Staten Island. Is this the case? Did Joni Mitchell go buy a mandolin there sometime in the '70s? What did she buy? Am I crazy for even wondering about this stuff?
A: Stan Jay, president of Mandolin Brothers, would like to assure you that you are not crazy, and that he has been asked this question many times over the years. Joni Mitchell did indeed make a trip to his store on Staten Island in 1976, where she bought a Gibson K-4 mandocello, built around 1915. It is a large (guitar-sized) version of the Gibson F-4 mandolin and is tuned C G D A, one octave below a mandola. On the same trip, she also bought a circa 1915 Martin 000-28 herringbone guitar. It was during the ferry ride back to New York City from Staten Island that she began writing "Song for Sharon."
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MrMeaning on :
If this comment is published, it'll apparently be the first to mention Phyllis Major, Jackson Browne's first wife, who committed suicide in 1976. Browne began a relationship with Major at the time he ended his relationship with Mitchell. Mitchell had known Major before then.
The Wikipedia entry on 'Hejira' repeats the claim made by Sheila Weller in her 2008 biography of Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carol King, 'Girls Like Us', that 'Song For Sharon' includes a coded reference to Major's suicide.
These words in verse six, 'A woman I knew just drowned herself...She was...punishing somebody' are widedly believed to imply that Browne was to blame for Major's suicide.
David Yaffe's 2017 biography of Mitchell, 'Reckless Daughter', was based on extensive recorded conversations with Mitchell. In explaining Mitchell's angry accusation, Yaffe says, 'A woman [Major], who had been married to an ex-lover, commits suicide. She [Mitchell] feels bad. And she can't let go of her bitterness toward the man who surely drove her to it, which makes her feel even more sympathy, more anger...She would like to be above settling scores, yet she is compelled to do so. It all came rushing back. Jackson had the nerve to dump her. Then she had such a vivid sense of what was wrong with him, and she could see what he was doing to the women who came after.'
After the rumour had circulated that Browne beat Daryl Hannah in 1992, Mitchell released another song widely believed to be an angy attack on Browne, 1994's 'Not to Blame', which implied that Browne was a wife-beater who made women suicidal but said he was not to blame.
See my blogpost, 'Jackson Browne and Daryl Hannah', which includes a detailed account of Mitchell and Browne's relationship and its bitter aftermath. (Facebook won't let me give the URL. Search, if you will, for 'soothfairy browne hannah', and see the Contents.)
PineyWoods on :
It should also be mentioned that during the summers in the 60s and 70s, the Wollman Rink in Central Park was converted to a music venue, initially known as the Shaeffer Music Festival and later as the Dr Pepper Music Festival.
Joni performed there with Arlo Guthrie in 1968 and with Tim Hardin in 1969.
geffy on :
this song haunts me, the lament of the wedding dress with the rolling guitars and the voice i first truly heard on summer lawns draws me back in time to my experiences of that album and to have that reminiscing paralleled by someone elses makes it a strange first person experience for a stranger
alemabe on :
This is my favourite song: no doubts! The most moving one. If I could choose one last song before the end, it would be "Song for Sharon".
Did you know that Joni said, in an interview, who Sharon was? One of her best friends when she was a teenager. Here you will find the information:
Mitchell: I rounded up everything that had some mention of it [she means Saskatchewan, in Canada]. The list was longer than the CD would hold. "Song for Sharon" for Sharon Bell. Sharon was a childhood friend of mine from Maidstone who studied voice and was going to become a singer. I was always going to marry a farmer. She ended up marrying a farmer and I became a singer. "Urge for Going" is about the long, cold winters, and it's pretty much a soliloquy about Saskatchewan.
cyclerider on :
This song is masterpiece in Joni's catalog of many masterpieces. It's like a novel or movie in a song. I've listened to it over and over, and in spite of its length, I never get bored. It has no bridge or chorus. Amazing work!
danno on :
i lived on staten island in the mid 70s and took the ferry to work on one liberty plaza, next to the WTC. i was a young man in my late 20s and was smitten by joni since 'song to a seagull'. when this album came out it affected me deeply. as the ferry went by the statue i would hear this song in my head and i could picture the indians building the WTC towers... i always wondered back then how they would come to an end - i pictured something like rusting away in some distant sci-fi-ish future and crashing down bit by bit covered with mold. huh, life is strangely horrific to see them go before my very eyes...this whole album sometimes i can't play cause it makes me cry. [ed.]
michaelyellin on :
I love it too- but What is it with this song ???
I completely fall apart within the first couple of stands. . ,
it's pretty freaky-tiki (catharsis is refreshing but would like to get to the bottom of this obvious repressed emotional response ;-)
SueWaterall on :
This is my favourite ever Joni Mitchell song. The lyrics are incredibly moving. I play it and play it, and sing along to every word. And I always start crying at the "a woman i knew just drowned herself" part. It's a work of art.