Joni Mitchell in Concert: Friday 10.15 BBC2 Colour
What strange force is it which drives a performer to completely bare his or her soul in front of a vast audience of strangers? I suppose we'll never really understand, because it's rare, a kind of chemical reaction between artist and audience where the artist depends on the audience, which itself is awed by the knowledge of what's being revealed.
But it happens every night with Joni Mitchell, and that's one of the qualities which make her stand out. She depends totally on that chemistry. Without a suitable reaction she can't perform her songs, which walk along the very fine line between stability and emotional breakdown.
She's a nervous performer, and at the Isle of Wight this year her confidence was shattered by a series of apparently unconnected disturbances which a rock group wouldn't even have noticed. But somehow she struggled back and, by giving more of herself than she owed, won a great victory.
The other quality she possesses is a poet's mind. She writes lines with a rigour almost unknown in her field.
Her song 'Conversation,' for instance, has the lines: 'She removes him, like a ring/to wash her hands/she only brings him out to show her friends/I want to free him.' In one of her best-known songs, 'Chelsea Morning,' she sings: 'And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.'
Her precision, above all, will prevent her from being an influence on her contemporaries in the way that Bob Dylan, for instance, was. She is too singular to copy.
A couple of weeks ago she was voted top lady singer in the world by the readers of Melody Maker: an extraordinary achievement for a singer whose albums have only been available in Britain for just on a year. Success, though, was some time coming for her. Born Roberta Joan Anderson at Fort McCloud, Alberta, Canada, she gained her first slight recognition when Tom Rush recorded her 'The Circle Game' and 'Urge For Going,' and her name became more widely known when Judy Collins put 'Both Sides, Now' out on an album and later on a hit single.
Now, with three of her own albums available, she is a companion and neighbour (in Los Angeles's Laurel Canyon) of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who had a hit with her anthem 'Woodstock,' and she conquers wherever she goes. But one can't see success changing that essential combination of fragility and spirit which make her such a singular artist.
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