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Joni Mitchell Speaks… But Not To Us

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Joni Mitchell (photo by Norman Jean Roy)

Joni Mitchell is 71 years old and she definitely disappeared from the music scene in 2007, but she is still talking, at least to New York magazine, which just published a long interview of her. I can’t really decide whether she is an uncompromised genius or a crazy and bitter old woman (may be both) but the interview is a mix of oddities and reaffirmations of Joni Mitchell’s unique personality.

‘Basically, at this time, I’m trying to fix my legacy. It’s been butchered. It’s been panned, and scanned, and colorized,’ she says to Carl Swanson. Her legacy matters to her, she has been a rebel all her life who has fought hard not to become what everyone else wanted her to be. and she still seems to be very engaged in these battles: ‘All my battles were with male egos, I’m just looking for equality, not to dominate. But I want to be able to control my vision. There are those moments when I wax feminine and I get walked on.’

I guess this is what she means when she talks about the movie project which would potentially cast Taylor Swift as Mitchell: ‘I’ve never heard Taylor’s music. I’ve seen her. Physically, she looks similarly small hipped and high cheekbones. I can see why they cast her. I don’t know what her music sounds like, but I do know this — that if she’s going to sing and play me, good luck.’

Joni doesn’t even try to be nice! When the Hammer museum wants to honor her, she is very clear, she feels used again: ‘Look, let’s lay our cards on the table. Really, you want to say a few nice things to me, but it’s bait to get rich people to open their wallets for the museum. So I will do this for you. It’s not that you’re doing this for me. I will do this for you.’

With this kind of opinions, no wonder that she has had a tough time in the men-dominated world of the 70s, David Crosby once said that ‘Joni’s about as humble as Mussolini,’ Bob Dylan said she was ‘kind of like a man,’ Warren Beatty said she dressed like a senator’s wife, and Leonard Cohen said she ‘dressed like a debutante’…

‘When I went out of the hippie thing, I started wearing Yves Saint Laurent, some more expensive clothes,’ she says. ‘I guess you’d have to say — still very casual, the way I wore them, since I wore them my own way. And Warren, who was going with Julie Christie at the time, said that my purse, which was Chanel, one of those quilted bags — a nice design. Julie carried a military bag, a khaki canvas bag. Warren just said mine was an unbecoming purse for an artist … I have to give up my individuality to belong to the club?

She has no pity for her biographers: ‘There’s no magic in those books. They’re all unauthorized, and they’re all full of ridiculous assumptions and gossip.’

The woman who once told Morrissey she considered herself a punk admits she is not a confessional singer. ‘Confessing to what, exactly? Was Tennessee Williams a confessional playwright? The trouble is that I’m the playwright and the actress, and all of it — it’s kind of like people that follow soap operas. They meet one of the characters on the street and say: ‘You should’ve ­married her.’

There’s not a tender moment, not even when she evokes her marriage with her first husband, Chuck ­Mitchell: ‘There’s an old saying. It says: If you make a good marriage, God bless you. If you make a bad marriage, become a philosopher. So I became a philosopher.’

She also has strong words about being alone :’Why does it come as such a shock to know you really have no one? If you’re not ready for that, it’s meaningless. If you’re ready for it and you’re in that space, you’ll burst into tears, and actually, it’ll make you stronger. You’ll be able to accept that, accept your loneliness, when you’re ready. Otherwise, it’ll go in one ear and right out the other. It won’t mean anything. It’s all in timing. That’s why I don’t think my music is disposable.’

Joni apparently likes to talk and talk and she talks a lot about herself to be honest but she has good sentences like, ‘They’ll crucify you for staying the same, and they’ll crucify you for change. I’d rather be crucified for changing.’… ‘By the giants, I’m considered a Charlie Parker, I’m an innovator. That’s the thing about innovation, it’s scary. Plus I’m a girl. And I was kind of the ‘It’ girl of that time. In the ’50s, I would not have been the ‘It’ girl, because my breasts weren’t big enough. They came in late. In my 50s. Where were they when I needed them? But I have a flapper body. I would be great in the ’30s. Even bodies go in and out.’

And then there is this weird thing about black men: ‘When I see black men sitting, I have a tendency to go — like I nod like I’m a brother. I really feel an affinity because I have experienced being a black guy on several occasions.’

And if you wonder what this is about, here it is: ‘Well, did you ever see the cover of Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter? That’s me. The black guy in the front.’ ‘I was being butchered by a dentist who was capping my teeth — and he was my dentist for about 12 years and one day he said, ‘Oh, you’ve got the worst bite I’ve ever seen. You have teeth like a Negro male.’ Next thing, she meets a guy on Hollywood Boulevard ‘diddy bopping’, and she decides ‘to go as him’ to a Halloween party. It was such a success that she decided to use the idea for her album cover, she was shooting with a ‘bossy and annoying’ guy: ‘I brought it in a bag,’ she says. ‘I could do the makeup in about four minutes, and then I step out of the curtain. I just stood there till they noticed me. I walked really showily, going, Heh heh heh. It was a great revenge. That was all to get his ass. To freak him out. I had to keep him on the defensive.’

Isn’t it a bit…. err, weird? But there is worst, and her crazy side really shows up when she mentions her skin disorder Morgellons, a controversial disease which resembles to a leftover from a LSD trip, and which she describes as a ‘weird, incurable disease that seems like it’s from outer space’. ‘Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm. They cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable, or mineral.’ Real or delusion, even Joni’s diseases are the strangest ones that exist.

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