Friday, November 7, 2008

The Deno Diary: 65 Poetics For Joni Mitchell's 65th Birthday

I love her music. I love her paintings. I love her voice. I love her unique and outspoken point of view. I love her open guitar tunings. I love everything about Joni Mitchell. I love Joni Mitchell so much that I’ve not only seen her in concert, I’ve seen a guy impersonating Joni Mitchell in concert. I love, love, love Joni Mitchell.

Of course, she’s not a saint. It was David Crosby who said that she is about as humble as Mussolini. Joni Mitchell is an artist, in all facets of the word. A great artist.

And as she turns 65 today, I find myself drawn more than ever to the poetic images she creates in her lyrics. There is really no subject she can’t write about: Relationships and romance, for sure, but just as often travel, history, childhood, nature, politics, religion, social issues. They have all come under Joni Mitchell’s clear-eyed gaze.

You’ll never see me question the writerly genius of Dylan or a Leonard Cohen. But I know that Joni Mitchell is a greater poet than either of them. Why? Because, to quote one of the endlessly quotable lines from her masterpiece Hejira, she finds out “just how close to the bone and the lips and the skin and the eyes you can get.” She observes. She sees. She understands.

So, to celebrate her 65th birthday today, I am offering up 65 lyrical moments from Joni Mitchell songs. They are lines that have stuck in my head for years. Feel free to leave a comment with some of your favorites (that means you, Jim Emerson!)

Taken together, they form a sort of road map to a fascinating woman of heart and mind.


I am on a lonely road and I am traveling
Looking for the key to set me free
Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling
It’s the unraveling
And it undoes all the joy that could be
All I Want

Here in Savannah it’s pouring rain
Palm trees in the porch light like slick black cellophane
Blue Motel Room

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
And your face sketched on it twice
A Case of You



Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning
And the first thing that I knew
There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too.
And the sun poured in like butterscotch
And stuck to all my senses
Oh, won’t you stay
We’ll put on the day
And we’ll talk in present tenses
Chelsea Morning

We are stardust
We are golden
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Woodstock

He bought her a diamond for her throat
He put her in a ranch house on a hill
She could see the valley barbecues
From her window sill
See the blue pools in the squinting sun
Hear the hissing of summer lawns
The Hissing Of Summer Lawns

Blue, songs are like tattoos
Blue

It always seems so righteous at the start
When there’s so much laughter
When there’s so much spark
When there’s so much sweetness in the dark
Car On A Hill

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
Oh I’d still be on my feet
A Case Of You

Still I send up my prayer
Wondering who's there to hear
I said, "Send me somebody
Who's strong
And somewhat sincere"
Same Situation



You know the times you impress me most
Are the times when you don’t try
When you don’t even try
Woman of Heart and Mind

When you dig down deep
You lose good sleep
Lesson In Survival

We dont need no piece of paper
From the city hall
Keeping us tied and true
My Old Man

We love our lovin’
But not like we love our freedom
Help Me

In the plan
Oh, the cock-eyed plan
God must be a boogie man!
God Must Be A Boogie ManI

Three waitresses all wearing
Black diamond earrings
Talking about zombies
And singapore slings
Barandgrill

Coyote’s in the coffee shop
He’s staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he’s watching the waitress’ legs
Coyote

And you just have to laugh
cause it’s all so crazy
Ah, her mind’s on her boyfriend
And eggs over easy
Barandgrill

Sometimes Chickie had the car
Or Ron had a car
Or Lead Foot Melvin with his hot-wire head
We’d all go looking for a party
Looking to raise Jesus up from the dead
And I’d be kissing in the back seat
Thrilling to the Brando-like things that he said
In France They Kiss On Main Street

The big man arrives
Disco dancers greet him
Plainclothes cops greet him
Small town, big man, fresh lipstick glistening
— Edith and the Kingpin



By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
Woodstock

History falls
To parking lots and shopping malls
Furry Sings The Blues

A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof
Like a dragonfly on a tomb
Harry’s House

Handy’s cast in bronze
And he’s standing in a little park
With a trumpet in his hand
Like he’s listening back to the good old bands
And the click of high heeled shoes
Furry Sings The Blues

We came up from the subway
On the music midnight makes
To Charlie’s bass and Lester’s saxophone
In taxi horns and brakes
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat

Blue and silver sparkling drums
Cheap guitars, eye shades and guns
Furry Sings The Blues

Listen...
Strains of Benny Goodman
Coming through the snow and the pinewood trees
Hejira

The eagle and the serpent are at war in me
The serpent fighting for blind desire
The eagle for clarity
Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68,
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
The Last Time I Saw Richard

My friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions
It seems we all live so close to that line
And so far from satisfaction
Song For Sharon

In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn’t see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all
Refuge Of The Roads

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Hejira

"Come with me, I know the way" she says
"It’s down, down, down the dark ladder”
Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire

I’m like a black crow flying
In a blue, blue sky
Black Crow

Alive, alive, I want to get up and jive
I want to wreck my stockings in some juke box dive
All I Want

If l had my way
I’d just walk through those doors
And wander
Down the Champs Elysees
Going cafe to cabaret...
Free Man In Paris

In France they kiss on Main Street
Amour, mama, not cheap display
— In France They Kiss On Main Street

Love came to my door
With a sleeping roll
And a madman’s soul
Court and Spark

In the morning there are lovers in the street
They look so high
You brush against a stranger
And you both apologize
Down To You

I remember that time that you told me, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely you touched mine
Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
A Case of You



I went to Staten Island
To buy myself a mandolin.
And I saw the long white dress of love
On a storefront mannequin
Song For Sharon

I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm
I’m going to join in a rock n roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try and get my soul free
Woodstock

If there’s no good reception for me
Then tune me out, cause honey
Who needs the static
It hurts the head
You Turn Me On I’m A Radio


All this talk about holiness now
It must be the start of the latest style
Is it all books and words
Or do you really feel it?
Do you really laugh?
Do you really care?
Do you really smile
When you smile?
Woman of Heart and Mind

You can feel it out in traffic;
Everyone hates everyone!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills ...
Sex Kills

What happened to this place?
Lawyers and loan sharks
Are laying America to waste
No Apologies

Land of snap decisions
Land of short attention spans
Nothing is savored
Long enough to really understand
Dog Eat Dog

Last night I dreamed I saw the planet flicker
Great forests fell like buffalo
Everything got sicker
And to the bitter end
Big business bickered
The Three Great Stimulants

In the cookie I read
Some get the gravy
And some get the gristle
Some get the marrow bone
And some get nothing
Though there’s plenty to spare
Banquet

Doctors’ pills give you brand new ills
And the bills bury you like an avalanche.
And lawyers havent been this popular
Since Robespierre slaughtered half of France!
Sex Kills

Preacher preaching love like vengeance
Preaching love like hate
Calling for large donations
Promising estates
Rolling lawns and angel bands
Behind the pearly gates
You know, he will have his in this life
But yours will have to wait
Tax Free

Every Sunday on TV — Ethiopia
You suffer with such dignity — Ethiopia
A TV star with a PR smile
Calls your baby ‘It’ while strolling
Through your tragic trials
On and on — Stupidity
On and on — the basic needs are defiled
Good air — good water — good earth
Ethiopia

You and me, we’re like America and Russia
We’re always keeping score
We’re always balancing the power
And that can get to be a cold cold war
Blue Motel Room

Well I’m learning
It’s peaceful
With a good dog and some trees
Out of touch with the breakdown
Of this century
Electricity

I dream paprika plains
Vast and bleak and God forsaken
Paprika plains
And a turquoise river snaking
Paprika Plains

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
River

I'll try to keep myself open up to you
It gets easier and easier to do
Just like Jericho
Let these walls come tumbling down
Jericho

Hey, where you going...
Dont go yet...
Your glass ain’t empty and we just met
Raised On Robbery

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending
Little Green

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
Big Yellow Taxi

So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
Both Sides Now

I know - no one’s going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone
Hejira

Now I sit up here
The critic!
And they introduce some band
But they seem so much confetti
Looking at them on my TV set
Oh the power and the glory
Just when you’re getting a taste for worship
They start bringing out the hammers
And the boards
And the nails
For The Roses

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day
Both Sides Now

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and dawn
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.
The Circle Game

Happy birthday, Joni!

6 comments:

Jonathan Lapper said...

I agree, she's a great poet. And she looks great at 65. This is a great collection of her lyrics.

Deno Lao said...

A comment! Finally!

Jonathan Lapper said...

I'm the first? Hooray!!!!!

What's my prize?

Deno Lao said...

That icon is freaking me out. You know, it's November now.

Jonathan Lapper said...

That's always been my icon, not just an October thing. It's my cat Middy. Here she is in action (seriously, this is her, filmed by me - choose the high quality option or it looks too blurry). Over 2,000 views for my little mouse catcher.

Deno Lao said...

OK, but still.