Sometimes it is so hard to start writing about somebody, who`s career lasts for almost half of a century resulting with priceless contribution to modern music, art and culture as well. That`s why its maybe easier to start from the beginning.
Born 70 years ago as Roberta Joan Anderson in Canada, Joni started playing in small clubs, performing her music to folk audience in her homeland. Her turbulent life brought her many tears, joy and inspiration. There are so many facts that marked herself as an artist and person, that pile of books can be written. In 1965 she gave birth to a baby girl and gave her for adoption. Later she wrote a song about her called “Little Green”. In 1965 Joni changed her surname after marring Chuck Mitchel after only 36 hours after they met but marriage didn`t last for long.
She lived and travelled across the USA from East to West Coast. During that period, while playing in clubs, she met many new artists for that time. Tom Rush, Judy Collins, George Hamilton IV, Buffy Saint-Marie and Dave Van Ronk were amongst the first artists who recorded and released her songs. One night while she performed in Florida, David Crosby came and heard her playing. He was so stunned by her, that she immediately offered her cooperation and helped her move to West Coast. Her first music success came when she moved to California. In Los Angeles she recorded her first album and in 1968. 45 years ago, her debut masterpiece came out on Reprise Records and opened the door of great success.
The album “Song to a seagull” was revolutionary for its combination of folk, unusual for that time harmonies and honest and sophisticated poetry. It is a concept album divided in two parts: "I Came to the City" and "Out of the City and Down to the Seaside", like two sides of the LP.
The story opens with “I had a king” the song about Mitchell`s failed marriage with Chuck. Followed by similar message in “Michael from mountains”, Joni speaks about loving somebody without actually knowing him. In “Night in the city”, Joni accompanied with Stephen Stills on bass guitar, sings about the big city nightlife. Next song “Marcie” is about the woman who`s days pass in loneliness while she needs a man. The first part of the album ends with her taxi ride story and the driver called Nathan La Franeer, singing probably about leaving the city “I hired a coach to take me from confusion to the plane, and though we shared a common space I know I'll never meet again”
Part two is more about the need for freedom and turning to the nature and starts with “Sisotowbell”, as Joni has said stands for "Somehow, in spite of trouble, ours will be everlasting love”. Second song from the Part 2 - “Dawntreader” was named by the story of C. S. Lewis, and is about the sea captain and followed by the story of a pirate “Pirate of Penance” Joni underlines how she sees freedom in infinitely sea. Grandeur of the song “Song to a seagull” is in the manner how Joni connected her taught and wishes with beautiful lyrics and glamorous voice and music. She sees the bird as a reflection of freedom “Fly silly seabird, no dreams can possess you, no voices can blame you for sun on your wings…” and sings about the urge for escaping the city rush and noise “I came to the city and lived like old Crusoe on an island of noise in a cobblestone sea.” Album concludes with another ode to the freedom “Cactus Tree” and lyrics “While she's so busy being free like a cactus tree, being free.”
Her debut was produced by David Crosby. Joni recorded all guitars, piano and vocals, helped with Stephen Stills on bass (“Night in the City”) and Lee Keefer on banshee.
Mitchell is outstanding musician – especially guitar player. Magazine “Rolling Stone” ranked her 72nd place on Top 100 best guitarists. Her guitar skills improved significantly on each next album, leading her to exploring new music sounds and genres, moving from folk to jazz, fusion and soul later in her career.
After her debut, Mitchell`s career started to rise with writing, recording and releasing many other gems that contributed to the music of 20th century. Her track “Woodstock” is probably the most famous song about the historic event that was held in August 1969, although she hasn`t been there, but watched the whole thing on TV, that inspired her to write it.
She cooperated with many famous musicians like Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Larry Klein, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, David Crosby, Neil Young, The Band, and many many others.
Her beauty and intelligence enchanted many artists to admire or even fell in love and dedicate many songs to her, like Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Neil Young, The Hudson Brothers, Sonic Youth and many others. There`s even an assumption that Led Zeppelin`s “Going to California” was also inspired by Joni. Robert Plant said her name several times during the live performances of the song, while singing the verse about finding the queen without the king, referring to her “I had a king”.
Mitchell is not only famous for her music and poetry. She is and extraordinary painter who painted many of her album covers. After her musical retirement in the beginning of the 2000s, Joni dedicated more to painting and even started acknowledging herself more as a painter than musician, although her visual art is not something she is showing to often on exhibitions. She said that main reason for her retirement was her dissatisfaction with modern music industry.
This year she celebrates 45 years from her debut album and her 70th birthday with a tribute concert in famous Massey Hall that was held on June 18th.
She is multitalented visionary, poet of life, always one step ahead with urge for going. She is the woman of heart and mind - Joni Mitchell.