Issue 6 - Fall 2007 - The Sound Issue
JONI MITCHELL'S BLUE
BY JOSH RADNOR
The best albums make you feel as if the artist somehow plundered the raw material of your own life, your most intensely private thoughts and yearnings and fears, and spun ten perfect songs out of them. This seemed to be the case in my senior year of college when I discovered Joni Mitchell’s Blue, which led to an obsession so severe I had to hear it every few hours. I even began carrying it with me wherever I went and annoyingly insisting it be played on the nearest stereo. This strained more than a few friendships.
Like every college senior staring into the postcollegiate abyss, I was more than a little freaked. I was also bursting with half-formed thoughts and revelations. Freed from the black-and-white moralizing of my youth, I was awakening to the fact that something could be absolutely true and its opposite could also be absolutely true. So when Mitchell sang, “I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you some,” or “You taste so bitter and so sweet,” I got it. Well, kind of. Although love had wreaked minimal havoc in my life up to that point, I was beginning to get that it was an infinitely complex and contradictory animal. “Be prepared to bleed,” Mitchell warned.
Looking back, I’m not even sure I understood much of Blue. (What the hell was a “Sunset pig,”* and why did she want to kiss one?) Its landscape was too scorched for an innocent like me, but it had an urgency and a rawness that I found absolutely hypnotic. Joni Mitchell sounded like she had far more to say than time would allow — the lyrics felt stuffed into the music like flesh into tiny blue jeans.
If I were given to ranking such things (I am not), the opening track “All I Want” would be in serious contention for my favorite song of all time. Like the best songs, it sounds completely improvised and methodically composed all at once. I was twenty-one, and everything about the sentiments expressed in its lyrics rang true for me. Was I on a lonely road, traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling? It sure felt that way. Did I want to be strong and laugh along and belong to the living? Um, yeah. Here was a human being so alive alive, she wanted to get up and jive, and perhaps just maybe, time permitting, wreck her stockings in some jukebox dive. A woman who loved someone so much she wanted to shampoo them. Whoa.
I’ll always love Blue. But I’ll never love Blue. Not the way I did. That would be impossible. And perhaps unhealthy. Now, when I scroll past Joni Mitchell in my furious daily iTunes traffic, it’s like bumping into an ex-lover at the airport — we’re both late for our flights and don’t really have much time to talk, but you look great and we have to stay in better touch. And I walk away. Sad, but grateful. &
*A friend of mine recently told me he always thought it meant “a police officer on Sunset Boulevard,” which is a totally valid theory.