Song Lyrics

Court And Spark

by Joni Mitchell

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Love came to my door
With a sleeping roll
And a madman's soul
He thought for sure I'd seen him
Dancing up a river in the dark
Looking for a woman
To court and spark

He was playing on the sidewalk
For passing change
When something strange happened
Glory train passed through him
So he buried the coins he made
In People's Park
And went looking for a woman
To court and spark

It seemed like he read my mind
He saw me mistrusting him
And still acting kind
He saw how I worried sometimes
I worry sometimes

"All the guilty people" he said
They've all seen the stain
On their daily bread
On their christian names
I cleared myself
I sacrificed my blues
And you could complete me
I'd complete you

His eyes were the color of the sand
And the sea
And the more he talked to me
The more he reached me
But I couldn't let go of L.A.
City of the fallen angels

© November 28, 1973; Crazy Crow Music


People's Park is history in Berkeley, California -- it might look like just a ratty little square of sandy grass and forlorn trees off Telegraph Avenue, but the symbolic and political dimensions of the Park are complex and deep.

People's Park evolved through the sixties and seventies with Berkeley's Free Speech Movement, the SDS, and the various events of the anti-war and anti-authoritarian movements. People's Park became a piece of permanently-occupied University of California (UC) ground, originally occupied during a struggle over the threat by UC to build dorms and a parking lot in an area otherwise devoted to much smaller housing, apartments, and shops. In the demonstration that followed, the National Guard shot one bystander dead (a man by the name of James Rector) and wounded some 128 demonstrators. Over the next twenty five years, a standoff resulted, with UC eventually leasing it to the City of Berkeley for general (but from UC's point of view, temporary) use as a park.

In short, the Park means a lot to many non-students; either as an informal memorial to Rector, or as one of the few parks in the area, or, more commonly as the nineties started, a relatively safe place for the homeless to hang out during the day, sleep out at night, and pick up a meal from one of the semi-permanent kitchens run by the religious groups in the Park.

Above all, it came to represent one of the very few victories of ordinary Berkeleyites against the University; to be able to stroll the Park was to be able to remind yourself that sometimes you can win against the machine.... Many older people also felt that UC kept trying to get the Park back to attempt to finally erase its shame over the Free Speech Movement and the bloody-minded and lethal way it had supressed free speech and democracy during the sixties and seventies.

By 1991, UC Berkeley was ready to take People's Park back -- with force if necessary -- and the people of People's Park didn't want to let them have it back. Ostensibly, UC wanted to build a bunch of Volleyball courts on the Park, and, in the process, evict the homeless, the semi-homeless, and the Telegraph Avenue locals who either lived in the Park or used it for everything from lying around in the sun listening to impromptu concerts, to just reading or stretching during a lunch break, to doing the inevitable drug deals.

On the surface, it looked like a fairly classic UC vs. Berkeley thing: the University is a State organisation and can do whatever it likes in and to the city of Berkeley, and usually does so regardless of the local laws or the wishes of, or the effects on, the rest of us. It is in a practical sense entirely above the law. Evicting the homeless and the daytime strollers from People's Park just to make a couple of Volleyball courts for privileged students seemed par for the course: a bit casually brutal, but no worse than most such things, and, in this case, the University did actually own the place....

So, on July 31, 1991, after fruitless negotiations, UC sent in the bulldozers to clear the park; over the next week or so, protests and riots broke out, causing injuries to demonstrators and police, damage to businesses on Telegraph Avenue, and much classic Berkeley breast-beating.

The riots started that night; the protests followed....

Transcriptions of Court And Spark

Piano Transcriptions of Court And Spark

Court And Spark has been recorded by 34 other artists


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chrismay17 on

Oh my goodness. I was 22 when this album came out and working in a record store. It is sublime, as is Tom Scott's wonderful arrangements and multi tracked flute! I am now approaching 70 yrs young and this sounds as fresh as the day it came out. Ever the observer, Joni lyrics just shine with a unique sophistication. I lived in LA for 5 years or so and for me, Court & Spark and Hissing of Summer Lawns just encapsulate California life with its superficial sincerity, its transient population and cut throat practices conducted with a smile. Don't get me wrong I have good memories of the place! But Joni captured a unique moment in time with these two albums. Next comes Hejira.....Looking forward to that!

danno on

when my younger bro was alive and i moved back home from nyc in the early 90s i would go over there and party with him and his wife. we made a tape called "sirens" which was KD Lang's 'absolute torch' album, "the best of carly simon" and of course "court and spark." we would get in the kitchen and drink up a storm of beer with shots while making paia and maybe do a 'toot' or 2 and blast our "sirens" tape. oh how i miss those carefree days. whenever i hear the chimes on 'court' the flutes on 'free man' the wild rides on 'car on a hill' and 'troubled child' i'm back with my little bro. sniff

Deveno on

Nobody else writes songs like this. Allusions to Joseph Conrad, the on-going political scene at Berkeley, religion and medieval love. The only other lyricist I can think of who even approaches this density of ideas with so much ecomony is Dylan. And that line: "court and spark"! The very idea of setting someone ablaze, and rekindling life in them by how much you love them, very intense.  [ed.]