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Joni Taught Me To Wait Before Judging Elizabeth Print-ready version

by Michelle Brafman
May 7, 2009

Michelle Mercer, author of the newly released Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell's Blue Period, claims that she was roughly the eighty-nine millionth teenage girl to have an existential transformation through Joni Mitchell's 1971 album Blue. (I was eighty-nine million and one.)

Thankfully, Mercer transcends celebrity gossip in her effort to capture the nuance and depth of Mitchell's most autobiographical work. "Songs are like tattoos," Mitchell says, and her voice, chord arrangements and poetry left indelible marks on fans like Mercer and me.

"The people who get the most out of my music see themselves in it," Mitchell said. And Blue was the soundtrack of my 20's. I'd fall in and out of love to "All I Want" and "A Case of You." My friends and I would gather for Sex in the City-esque dinners (swap out Monolo Blahnik for Nine West) and swear that we weren't going to cash in our dreams for a man. Big talk, but most of us owned a copy of the cathartic Blue for good reason.

Later, when I married and began worrying more about my children's hearts than my own, I returned to her work, this time as a fiction writer. Blue became the gold standard for the kind of story that to quote her, "peeled itself down to the bone." I appreciated what it must have cost her to rip her heart out of her chest so that we could dance to its beat.

Mercer asserts that Blue "conflated the fall of romance with the end of the 1960s' countercultural dreams." And I felt this even though I barely experienced the 60's. I prided myself in really getting Joni Mitchell; I even own a copy of the documentary Woman of Heart and Mind: A Life Story. I knew that she'd given up a baby for adoption, yet it never occurred to me that this had anything to do with the veins she opened to create Blue.

Mercer says, "In retrospect, Mitchell said her post Blue crisis was the product of achieving sudden fame while still burdened with the shame of having given up a daughter for adoption in 1965...Her sorrow probably imploded within her while exploding into the songs of Blue, which were honest about everything but her daughter." How did I miss that? I can't be too hard on myself, because well, it seems as though Joni might have missed it, too.

It makes me think about how we interpret the confessions made in any kind of autobiographical work, from something as raw and gorgeous as Blue to something raw and not-so-gorgeous like the tell-all memoir. So after reading Melinda's post about Elizabeth Edwards' new memoir Resilience, I found myself wondering if Elizabeth really sees her husband as the helpless victim to a sexy young predator? Maybe so. Maybe not. Maybe both. And maybe it's not such a bad idea to wait a little while before trying to make sense of a blue period.

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Added to Library on May 7, 2009. (4950)


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