Every woman needs female friends who stand on an equally objective footing.
Women provide each other a unique emotional support, which cannot be substituted by anything or anyone else. Throughout human existence, these groups of women have always been responsible for the first, most vulnerable years, in a child's life; the infancy of all human life. Without these women doing the right things, together, we would have gone extinct long ago. So, when asked about female friendships, my thoughts go instantly to both my phone conversations with Jann, in North Carolina, as well as to the sociological evolution and survival of the entire human species.
Joni needed her female pals, too. She was attracting the most exquisitely talented, smart, sensitive, strong, and gorgeous men on the planet, but they weren't female pals. With fame increasingly isolating her, along with the men flocking in, there was a growing mass of women who idolized her. You can't make a female pal out of that, either.
In 1968, I hung out a lot with Joni and David Crosby in Laurel Canyon. Our troika pulled the creative catalyst that brought us three together in Coconut Grove, Florida. It was a moment, at the Gaslight South coffee house, where the rods of the arc light came into sufficient contact to ignite a blaze of pure white brilliance. If you think I'm being excessively poetic, know that you can't get what happened next from anything less than poetic excess. But, it's not what I'm telling now.
What happened in the Grove is a lovely story to tell, and I promise to write it, but, suffice it to say, in early 1968, the friendship was in place, and it often found us together. The Croz would come and pick me up and then drive over to Joni's. For now, I'll spare you the white knuckle details of Crosby's remarkable ability to convert every turn in the canyon into Dead Man's Curve. I'd always arrive at least 10 times a Whiter Shade Of Pale. So, Crosby took me there the day before Joni wrote Ladies Of The Canyon, and Crosby also picked me up on the day she completed the song.
I walked in the door and Joni was happy and smiling and keen on telling me she wanted me to hear her new song. She was acting a little unnaturally funny, like it was my birthday or something. She sat down in her first rented house in the canyon, at the old upright piano she recently acquired, and began to play. I listened as though I was the last holdout juror expected to decide the verdict, or maybe like that old commercial where the kids said, "Let's see if Mikee likes it."
David Crosby and Joni were so much older than me, both in age and experience, I was more like their surrogate love child, or their cherubim cupid, whose tender ears inspired calm in their ever mounting disagreements; here to remind them of my role in their first spark of love. I was in the middle, as two years hence I'd be in a similar position; there to deliver a fragile touch good-bye from Joni to Graham Nash, followed by my version of the movie, Moonstruck: a swift, slapping, "Snap out of it!"
When she finished singing Ladies of the Canyon for me, she looked up with a clear smile. Crosby stood smiling his light up the world, mustache grin, accompanied by those long, thick eye lashed sparkling eyes; looking at me like Joni had just dubbed me the first female knight of the realm. Oh God! What was I supposed to say?!? I remember feeling blind-sided, and confusticated by a traffic collision of juxtaposed contradictions. First of all, she was really rusty on the piano, and didn't play it nearly as well as guitar, or as good as she would get real soon. Secondly, the song, though very sweet, seemed a little twee, and my father would be furious at any association of me to a gypsy, and it just wasn't as good as her other songs. To me, it just wasn't! And, number three, I couldn't be objective at all. All I could do was smile and say, "Oh wow" and "Far out" and "Thank you, thank you so much", but I couldn't fool them.
Not for one minute. So Joni jumped on, "Oh, you'll like it better when I get better at playing it", then me, "No, it's really good, I just need to hear it some more, here, play it again," then the Croz crossing, "Have you any idea what this means?!?" Then we all worked it out to being a very good thing. Which, of course, it was. Or maybe my response nixed the idea of putting it on Joni's first album.
There was a fourth thought that mowed down the other contradictions like a runaway semi truck, on the steep slant of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, during rush hour. I felt it then, and now. It was what Crosby meant by, "Do you know what this means?" The sense I got from the song was that it was Joni's way of attempting to elevate her ladies of the canyon to a place where she could have grounded female friends; to mitigate the imposed isolation, as well as give us financial parity through her own brand of advertising, so we could buy new, fast cars to keep up with her. Crosby's question revealed how powerful a song was then, and still can be. We knew we were writing the kind of poetic inspiration assigned to national anthems. We took very seriously the responsibility that goes with the power of a well turned phrase on an hypnotic melody.
The song was, as they say, a gift that just kept on giving; for decades. I remind you, she wrote this song in early 1968. Martin Luther King was still alive, for a few more days. Bobbie Kennedy was going to, at last, return us to a state of the gentle intelligence we knew before national mourning. We did not hear the ticking bomb beneath our equal footing. All we heard were the cooing, dulcet sounds of this woman's wish for us all.
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