Sunday, January 13, 2013

Summarising the genius of Joni Mitchell in thirty seconds

I've spent the last few days listening to Joni Mitchell's Court And Spark and trying to explain to myself why I gets me the way it does.

Most of the celebrated albums have one song that encapsulates their appeal. Most of those songs have a bit within them that in turn sums them up. With this record it's "Free Man In Paris", the song she wrote about David Geffen, the man who owned her record company, getting away from his work in Hollywood and having a holiday in Paris. She visited the city with Geffen and Robbie Robertson in the early 70s.

The bit is the middle eight. "If I had my way I'd just walk through those doors and wander down the Champs Elysees...."

The words tumble towards the two syllables of "wander" (which is barely a letter away from "wonder") which she extends into three and a half and then holds. As she does so you're rushing through the revolving door of that posh hotel lobby and into the Parisian sunshine with her. At that point the entire record opens up. You can listen to it below.


  1. I love the way in which every instrument is doing something that hooks the listener into the songs with melody or groove; non of them are wasted, all of them virtuoso.

    I fairly float when listening to 'Help Me'; it pulsates and elevates. So much joy packed into well under three minutes.

  2. One of my favourite albums. The songs move from expressions of carefree, exuberant, joy (Help Me, Free Man In Paris, Raised On Robbery) to ones of beautiful melancholy and enigmatic, reflective, storytelling.(Court & Spark, Down To You, The Same Situation). Genius indeed.

  3. Yes! It's the 'wonder'/'wander' moment that shows true genuis in that song, because it gives you one thing one moment ('I'd just walk through those doors and wonder') and then replaces it with something else ('I'd [...] wander down the Champs Elysees'). The delivery is pitch perfect for both, but really sells the first so the idea that that isn't the end of the sentence comes as a genuine surprise the first (and, really, every) time that you hear it.

  4. Coincidentally came across this link recently: Joni on BBC TV, 1970.

    Here's an abandoned intro for a story I once wrote about photographers and visiting rock stars:
    Joni Mitchell was ready to rave. In Auckland for a promotional trip in 1988, she arrived with the flu and spent a few days secluded in her hotel room. All press was cancelled. On the day she emerged, the only interview scheduled was with Peter Thomson, Rip It Up’s enthusiastic freelance Joni scholar. I was his chauffeur (and editor).
    They hit it off and conversational sparks flew for an intense hour. After that, a press conference was scheduled. No one showed up except for an ex-hippy allegedly working for a community newsletter, and a grizzled photographer from the New Zealand Herald. The record company rep asked me sit in, to make up the numbers.
    Around a small table we gathered and Joni and Peter continued their exuberant tête-à-tête. She consumed copious amounts of cigarettes and coffee while her mind leapt about; she was charming, funny, saucy and breathtakingly articulate.
    For an engrossing hour we listened to the two new, fast friends. Then the newspaper photographer stood up and said, “Miss Mitchell, I’ve got to go now and photograph a race meeting. I hadn’t heard of you when I was told to come here. But this has been the most fascinating encounter of my career.”
    He got his photograph but missed the magic moment. For Mitchell then pulled out a guitar and serenaded us with three or four songs.