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Full transcript of Joni Mitchell's interview with The Sun's John Mackie Print-ready version

by John Mackie
Vancouver Sun
January 15, 2010

VANCOUVER -- Joni Mitchell was in Los Angeles, Jean Grand-Maitre was in Calgary and I was in the Vancouver Sun newsroom on Jan. 8, 2010, when they rang me up to 2:45 p.m. to talk about a ballet based on Mitchell's songs, The Fiddle and the Drum. Launched in 2007 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Alberta Ballet, it has since become a TV special and has toured across North America. We talked for 45 minutes, and Joni talks so fast I had to put it on "slow" mode to transcribe it from my digital recorder.

Sun: What was the impetus for the ballet? I understand that Jean had a concept for a ballet with Joni, and wrote her a letter which charmed her.

Grand-Maitre: Did the letter charm you, Joni?

Mitchell: No, the letter didn't have so much impact. But Jean in person did. Jean started a ballet called Dancing Joni. They had the posters made and everything, and they came to visit me in the latter-part of the Bush era. I was so mad at Bush that I was doing an art show that was kind of like [the Marx Brothers movie] Duck Soup, you know, a war is a war is a war. It was big images with war images shot off the television, interspersed with the Busby Berkeley dancers for comic relief. So it was Hitler and the Busby Berkeley dancers, Stalin and the Busby Berkeley dancers, Bush and the Busby Berkeley dancers. It was funny, because it was war and dance, and it was these big canvases, and I was preparing this art show.

Jean came with a ballet that he called Dancing Joni. He selected some material that he called Dancing Joni and he said 'What do you think?' And I said 'I think it's a little fluffy for the times.' I had this model for four rooms on my pool table. The gallery where I was going to show this war show was going to be painted grey and it was full of these luminous green and pink [canvases], war in green and pink. It was all these Busby Berkeley dancers from Gold Diggers 33 and 34, where they danced the great depression, but they made it a good night out. They dealt with the pain and travail of their time, but also made it entertaining.

So Jean looked at the model on the pool table and said 'We must put this in the ballet.' I said 'I'll give you a war ballet, but it'll be my most unpopular songs.' Because Dog Eat Dog and the albums where I did social commentary in the 80s were not well received. It was not in vogue, it was in vogue to be greedy and shallow, 'I'm a material girl.' The reviews were very bad, and the record company repressed a lot of the music very quickly.

Anyway I said 'I'll give you a war ballet, but your sponsors are Texas oilmen, aren't they?' He said 'Yes.' I said 'Well they'll probably pull out.'

Sun: Did they?

Mitchell: They did. The pre-press for the ballet was me in front of some oil crackers, I think it was MacLean's, looking like Cochise. It said 'Joni's coming to Calgary to make trouble.'

We did it anyway. And it did what I hoped it would do. Between Jean and I and Pierre the lighting man, we created something beautiful. We dealt with heavy contemporary topics, economy versus ecology, things that are necessary to look at but people don't want to look at.

So we were able to make them look at it, and still be entertained by the beautiful pageant. I was very pleased, I think we succeeded in our own way, like Busby Berkeley did in the 30s.

Sun: Jean, how did you design a dance around Joni's songs?

Grand-Maitre: That's an enormous undertaking, because I knew they were legendary recordings. Not just legendary compositions, but recordings and performances by Joni. When we decided to take a new direction with the ballet, which was environmental, the ballet talked about the aggressions between nations that are on-going, I'd never done anything like that before, so I needed a lot of help from Joni. Being theatrical, she can really theatrical-ize music and stage it. She gave me an enormous amount of input on each song, where they came from, what they were about. She let me in to her world and shared it generously with me. Almost every song in the ballet, how it's happening in the staging and how it's developing, were ideas given to me by Joni. Because we spent countless hours on the phone discussing them and why she sequenced them the way she did.

And then to understand her recordings...it was daunting when we entered the studio and that legendary voice started to echo in our studio. It was like 'Oh wow the pressure.' I told the dancers, 'your bodies are going to move to this voice, and you have to be able to feel like that voice feels. 'Joni was helping me how to feel the groove in her music. I imagined her songs sometimes to be like symphonies, where the groove was the orchestra, [the] percussion and winds and her voice was the string section. That way I really started to feel her music, feel her groove. Her input is what made it magical, that's why it was a true collaboration.

Mitchell: He has this repertoire of dance figures...he put on headphones and walked along the Bow River and listened and listened and listened. There are classical dance moves that can be called out, like chords, and he was able to take my music [and adapt it]. [My music] is too complicated for some people, certainly it's too complicated for pop music. It's more complicated than Mozart, his stuff is more orderly. There's a lot of counter-patterns and stuff that painters can enjoy, because it's more like painters' layering, the movement, the counter-rhythms and so on in the piece.

Jean brought them to life. So when I first saw it performed in the studio, I was delighted. I thought this is what people need, this visual aid, I think they'll be able to understand this music better.

I had a lot of criticisms of ballet, [laughs] when I go to ballet. In Swan Lake I think 'why are they twirling here? There was a better place for a spin back there. They should be going bup-bup-bup through here,' you know. I'm kind of opinionated about the coordination of movement to sound, but we worked like a dream team. We flowed like one person. We'd hit problems, 'oh what do we do,' and we didn't have to stop and stroke each other. It was magnificent. The collaboration was a true joy. The material was fairly deep, but Jean brought it some lightness. It did exactly what Busby Berkeley [did]. That was our template. Jean didn't know Busby's work, because that was movie dance, tap dance, from the 30s, depression dance to that great swing beat. But they managed to give people in a tough time a good evening out, without avoiding the issues. When the audience responded so well in the first performance, it was a very exciting thing.

Grand-Maitre: It was memorable.

Mitchell: The dancers too. What Jean hoped to accomplish...we did something new in the history of ballet. The ballet dancers are kind of trained to have wooden heads, like figure skaters. In this, they have to have emotion, because the music is so emotional. It's more like opera, they have to be able to act a little bit.

Sun: What do you mean, ballet dancers are trained to have wooden heads like figure skaters?

Mitchell: They're just supposed to be representing abstract figures, they're supposed to be more like dolls or puppets in most pieces. They're trained that way...

Grand-Maitre:...In classical repertoire.

Mitchell: Kind of like figure skating was like before Toller Cranston. It's very kind of stuff and stylized in a way, it doesn't show a lot of humanity. They're not supposed to be human beings, they're supposed to be shapes.

Grand-Maitre: It was interesting. When Joni arrived to see rehearsals before the ballet had its world premiere, she sat with me in the studio. She took very few notes, but they were important notes. She was writing as she watched the ballet, and would say 'This movement doesn't work with the word misery,' or 'You're stretching out beautifully, it's lyrical, but I'm singing about misery and the body should be contracting.'

What's the saxophone player, Joni?

Mitchell: Wayne Shorter.

Grand-Maitre: She would say 'Look, he's coming in on his alto or soprano sax. He's coming in two beats later, Jean, the curve of movement should start with Wayne Shorter there.' And she was absolutely right.

You know that point Joni you made, about how white people feel rhythm?

Mitchell: Well we have this one track, Woodstock, and I have the drummer of my dreams. He grew up on my music, he's a black kid from Shreveport, Louisiana. Black rhythm lays back on the beat. With dancers, Gene Kelly would always say the dancer dances ahead of the beat, so that the music is following him. But when you're playing to a black drummer, they're playing back on the beat and you can't do the Gene Kelly thing. So you have to know how to dance to black music, like a black.

So I came in on Woodstock with this black drummer playing, and the south is hot and humid. You relax into the beat, you just let your body kind of drop into the beat, whereas white people are taught to count, one-two-three-four, in their thinking. So I came in and I looked at Woodstock, and they were way ahead of the drummer. It looked white.

In fact, it was a lot of orientals [laughs], and great dancers. I said 'Swing your hips wider.' So on Woodstock, the hips swing in a very exaggerated way, which is good, because we're depicting the Summer of Love and that emancipated sensuality. But just that one little thing, by swinging their hips wider to each side they lock up better to a black drummer.

There's a few little things like that in pop music, that come down to feel. You can't count feel, it's a nuance on time, you know what I mean?

Grand-Maitre: Exactly.

Sun: What's the name of the drummer?

Mitchell: Brian Blade.

Sun: He's an L.A. session guy?

Mitchell: Oh no no no. He's legendary jazzer. I think he's living in Germany. He came to me....he grew up on all things jazz and my music. He came to play with me. He dots my i's and crosses my t's. He watches my shoulders, so he knows where I'm going to go next. I play guitar like a jazzer, I don't play the same way twice. That's the way he knows where I'm going to go, and he's always there with me, like a twin. He's another extraordinary collaborator.

Sun: Why did you choose the songs you did? I would guess the songs changed from Dancing Joni to this.

Mitchell: They changed three times, because it started off [as part of] a three artist ballet, a 20 minute ballet. It was Schubert, Tchaikovsky and me. They dumped Schubert, because they got an invitation to make it into a TV show. Now we had to make it into a 50 minute ballet. Then because it was a success, we needed to make it into a full evening, 113 minutes.

It went from 20 minutes to 50 minutes fairly quickly. I chose songs thematically, then I played around with them chronologically, even though they're not the literal scenes of a play, so that emotionally they would take you from the general emotion of this song to this song.

And we took it out real rowdy and light. So it had a happy ending, so to speak, even though it's not a happy song [Big Yellow Taxi].

Sun: It isn't a happy song. What inspired that song, which is one of the first environmental songs?

Mitchell: I think it was in 1967, I went to visit some friends who were playing in Hawaii. I came in at night, went to a big hotel, woke up in the morning, pulled back the curtains and saw green mountains and white birds flying along with long tails. Then I looked down and as far as the eye could see there was a parking lot.

So I wrote it that morning. It's like a nursery rhyme. When it was released, only in Hawaii was it an original hit. On its first release. It's been a hit by a lot of people in different regions since, including Counting Crows, who had a big hit with it recently that was international. But initially my version of it was a big hit in Hawaii.

It changed Hawaiian music, because I am a slack key player. They have a slack music tradition...there's only a couple of slack key traditions, the Hawaiians and the old black blues players. I've got 37 tunings, the black guys had banjo tunings, and the Hawaiians had an open major chord, I guess. So within that culture I became the champion slack key player. [Laughs] I did very different things with that method of playing the guitar.

So everything after 1967 in Hawaiian music sounds like Big Yellow Taxi to me. Because the chords, the tuning they used to use was the sound of paradise. It was a shiny, positive major chord. That's why Hawaiian music was so paradise-y. But after that, these more dissonant chords that I use, of modern grief, began to appear in the Hawaiian slack key culture.

Sun: What's it like to write one of those lines that's used every day all over the world: 'They paved paradise and put up a parking lot'?

Mitchell: Well, it's done some good. People have sent me some pictures from places: 'Look Joni, this used to be a parking lot, we turned it into a city garden.' So in its small way it has done some actual urban revival. I heard the mayor here [in L.A.] recently, they loaned their technology for cleaning up the L.A. River to Seoul, Korea. And they said 'You can unpave paradise.'

So you hear it around. It's been a utilitarian slogan. It's been a good little work horse. But it's a nursery rhyme, and like all nursery rhymes it's cheerful. Like Ring Around The Rosie is about the Black Plague. It's designed for children to sing. In New Jersey it was taught in the school system, and in New York, too, to Grade Three students. So it went into the culture, in a way.

But now with the Nile fever, they're threatening to use DDT against it, so they haven't learned their lesson.

Grand-Maitre: Joni do you remember when David Suzuki came to the studio and we talked about Big Yellow Taxi?

Mitchell: He said, 'What year did you write that, 82?' [laughs]

Grand-Maitre: He was surprised to [find out] you wrote it before Greenpeace really took off.

Mitchell: Before it existed.

Sun: Which brings up the incredible recording of you playing a benefit for Greenpeace in 1970. You basically launched Greenpeace with the benefit.

Mitchell: Yeah, that was the first benefit. The idea was to do a concert, and raise money to buy a boat to sail up to Amchitka, and sit in the territorial waters where they did underground testing on [top of] the San Andreas Fault. Testing of atomic bombs is complete lunacy anyway, but to pick a place where there were Inuit and seal breeding grounds, and right on the San Andreas Fault, I mean...there's no unstupid place to test the nuclear bomb, but could have they have picked a stupider place?

So we did the concert, handed them the money, they went down to the dock, they had the boat picked out, they sailed away. It was one of the those charity do's that went into activism, very quickly. But the boat hit high seas and didn't make its destination point.

They were trying to make an international incident out of it, to draw attention to the stupidity out of it. So it was kind of aborted, but, you know, you keep trying.

Sun: Were your surprised somebody had taped it and asked you to put out the record?

Mitchell: Oh, I forgot about it. But they needed it as a fundraiser, so James and I...Phil's dead, it was the three of us, but we have our approval. The first mixes did suck, they put too much high end EQ, that kkkkkkkkkkkkkkk sound of modern recording that everybody needs because their ears are dead or something. I told them you've got to take this grotesque post-80s sound off it, take it back to the original sound. They did that, they were cooperative.

Grand-Maitre: I just wanted to ask Joni, what does it mean for you to have Fiddle and Drum performed in Vancouver, after the way the times have changed?

Mitchell: Well, I just hope...you don't want to be preaching, [but] it's my pathetic [laughs] shot at awakening [people]. Canada for all our nature-loving, duck-watching tendencies, they're the most destructive ecologically. Aren't they in the top three bad guys....

Grand-Maitre: In Copenhagen, yeah.

Mitchell: Canada is faring really badly in terms of ecology awareness, which is stupid. Canadians think they're bright, but they're not acting very bright, they're not taking this thing seriously. I'm just hoping that it has some influence.

Sun: You've lived in the States for a long time, but you live up here part of the time. Do you feel Canadian still?

Mitchell: Nobody but a Canadian would ask that question. That's such a stupid question. My answer to that, forgive me, but it is, is was Picasso a Frenchman? Was Van Gogh? If you were European you wouldn't even ask that, it's just country cousin to a city slicker inferiority complex. I hate that question.

Sun: Sorry.

Mitchell: [laughs] That's my answer. Think about it. Of course I'm a Canadian. Americans don't know it sometimes, which is good. Because if they thought I was a Canadian saying the things I do, they wouldn't listen. So keep it under your hat.

Sun: Was it funny to go back through your old catalogue [to pick out songs for the ballet]? Because I get the feeling you're one of those people who's always going forward.

Mitchell: I hated going back. I was trying to put together a box set, which I think I'm going to abort, I don't know that I'm going to do it or not. I don't like listening back, no I don't. But in terms of this project, the opportunity to present it in a theatrical way [was different]. Jean and I made a lot of tapes, I'd call out names and I'd change the sequence. He'd have a tape burning and send it to me and I'd go 'It's not quite right yet, it doesn't feel right as a play.' It's got to emotionally move...it doesn't have a linear plot like a play, but it's a collection of ideas, thematically related. Finally I got a sequence [I liked]. Cause we don't send the clowns in much. On my records I do a little of, 'This is getting too heavy, where's Falstaff, send him in,' you know. But on the ballet it's a pretty heavy hitting collection and yet you get the feeling when the evening is over...I've seen people come up, especially the long version, with their eyes gleaming and tears running down their faces at half-time, in gratitude. Eh, Jean?

Grand-Maitre: Oh yeah.

Mitchell: It has a wonderful emotional effect. Jean even played it to cowboys and it got a great reaction. The humanity of it just works. The songs alone, people go 'we don't know what she's talking about and we don't care.' Especially The Three Great Stimulants, which was never understood...'the three great stimulants of the exhausted ones, artifice, brutality and innocence,' well that's Nietzsche the philosopher talking about Germany rotting.

Well, we're rotting just like Germany. So I borrowed that concept. What do you do when you're in a state of moral and ethical decay? You call to the three great stimulants of the exhausted ones. Artifice, you escape through entertainment. Brutality, our generation produced the most sadistic art in the history of film, anyway. And comedy, everything lost its heart and became brutal. And innocence of course should be corruption of innocence, that's why all this pedophilism and sexual tourism is on the increase, because what do rotten decadent pigs like best but to pervert innocence.

Grand-Maitre: You remember at the beginning of the ballet, Joni, how you and I talked about how your music has beauty and lyrics which are not beautiful when you sing of suicide and genocide, but the melody is beautiful. And then you have the dancers soaring in their athleticism and their beauty, and it kind of represents humanity at its worst and its best at the same time.

Mitchell: That's what I love about it. That's what I think. You look at those beautiful kids and think 'what a beautiful animal the human being is.' But the words are very critical of [humans] it's a stupid animal, it hasn't learned anything. It doesn't learn from history, it makes the same mistakes.

Sun: Do you spend a lot of time up here in B.C.?

Mitchell: Half the year.

Sun: Not the winter, I presume,

Mitchell: No, my pipes freeze up. And I don't have a generator, and there's power failures.

Sun: What attracts you to B.C., what is special about B.C.?

Mitchell: It's my heartbeat. My home there is my heartbeat. I have long term friends here [in Los Angeles] that are hard to let go of, they're like family to me. My family so to speak is here, the best relationships that I've made. I go up there and it's pretty isolated, and I go to write and work in the beautiful setting close to the ocean. It's my soul. I like to live in the country...although it's becoming a suburb.

Sun: It's becoming part of the Lower Mainland,.

Mitchell: It's being very very ignorantly managed, with no consideration to water. They're destroying it.

Sun: Do you write every day? Are you one of those kind of people?

Mitchell: No.

Sun: What gives you an idea to write a song, do you write them in one go?

Mitchell: Listen to my songs and look for yourself. [chuckles]

Sun: Are you working on anything right now? You say you're probably canning the idea of a box set, but are you working on a new record right now?

Mitchell: I'm very ill, I'm fighting for my life.

Grand-Maitre: We're talking about a new ballet maybe, eh, Joni?

Mitchell: Yeah. We intend to do another one. But I've been very ill, so mainly I'm just trying to survive.

Sun: Oh really? I didn't know that, sorry. How are you doing?

Mitchell: Well, nobody knows.

Grand-Maitre: Let's stick to the ballet, John, ah?

Sun: Sorry about that. So what's the new ballet?

Mitchell: We don't know yet.

Grand-Maitre: We're dreaming it, eh Joni? I think it may premiere in a couple of years, maybe in 2011-12.

Sun: Jean what was it originally that made you want to do a ballet about Joni Mitchell?

Grand-Maitre: It was funny, it was serendipity in a way. We were touring China one year and there was an afternoon where it was very cold outside. We were stuck in this huge kind of Communist theatre that almost had no lighting in it, a 5,000 seat theatre with almost nobody in it. We had to wait four hours for a performance. One of the dancers lent me his iPod, and it had Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I put it on, and I was listening to it for two hours, over and over and over. Being a Quebecer I knew mostly French singers, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel and Quebec singers. [But] I knew Joni Mitchell, and I knew Both Sides Now.

When it was the 40th anniversary of the ballet we were trying to find a very special way [to mark the event]. I was thinking [of those] big Beethoven symphonies and Gustav Mahler and Mozart. A friend in Toronto said 'Why don't you think of Joni Mitchell, she was born in Fort McLeod, Alberta.'

I thought 'Oh that's very interesting.' I started studying her anthology of music, which I find the most eclectic of any Canadian songwriter. How many singers do you know that have done masterpiece recordings in blues, folk, jazz and rock? So I listened to everything and how eclectic it was, so danceable, and so sophisticated. I said I could definitely create a ballet to this music.

The idea was to approach Joni, because she was also a visual artist, for a collaboration. Not just to get the rights to use the music, but to have Joni collaborate on a ballet. I thought the chances were one in a million, because she's solicited in many different directions all the time. We sent her a package with a letter and a photo of the ballet. That's when I got an answer, that she was at least interested in meeting me in L.A. So I went down to meet her.

Mitchell: The photo was synchronistic, because the photo they sent me was a girl who looks like she's nine. She's wearing a pink tutu, and she's standing under a street light. We lived in a corner house in Maidstone [in Saskatoon]....it's my neighbourhood. She's standing in a tutu at night on a corner of the street. It's in Edmonton, that's where the photo was taken, but it looks exactly like where I grew up between five and nine. I lived where that photo was taken. War time housing, you know? The houses were even the same colour, and in the same order. It was really uncanny.

At that age I dreamed of being a dancer, but I had polio. My parents thought 'you can't do that now, because you had polio.' Which is weird, because Cyd Charisse had polio, and she grew up to be a famous dancer. They didn't know that would have actually been good for me.

My first desire was to be a drummer, my second desire was to be a dancer. Then I became a painter, by the age of seven. But in that time period, I always knew I was going into the arts. Of course, I like them all, I kind of do them all.

Grand-Maitre: That's why you agreed to do this, because all the art forms you knew and cared about came together in one project.

Mitchell: And four doors down from the girl under the street light was Frankie McKitrick. Frankie McKitrick and I used to put on circuses every year and raise money for the Red Cross when we were kids. We'd turn all our money over to the Red Cross, I can't believe it. [laughs]

I had a taste if organizing neighbourhood kind of Our Gang small time pageants as a child, so I thought 'Oh gee this is just going to be like Frankie McKitrick, it's going to be so much fun.' So I went into it with Jean only for the fun. When I met him the chemistry between us [was great]

I said to him 'I'll give you a war ballet, but your sponsors, this is going to happen. This is my least popular material, I know you're trying to get a bigger audience in, and they're going to go 'where are the hits' and all of that crap. On top of that, the oilmen aren't going to like what we're talking about, they're going to pull out, are you willing to take this risk? And Jean said 'Yes.' I went 'Alright.' We started into it in the spirit of high play, and maintained it all the way through. It was a delightful experience.

And Pierre [Lavoie], I love his lighting, and the kids of course. It was a wonderful project.

Grand-Maitre: Pierre was a big part of the project.

Mitchell: Yeah, his lights are magnificent. Especially on the later stuff, he looked at the Cyclops, the background circle that I designed from which ideas will come. He looked at it like a little kid, his eyes lit up and he immediately started getting ideas. And the ideas he had were superb. We worked like Siamese triplets. [laughs]

Grand-Maitre: You know John when we created the ballet we had no money. I think we had $90,000 at the time, sets, costumes, lighting included. I said to Joni, 'we don't have much money for costumes, I don't know what to do. I don't want to be setting it in the 70s or 60s, what do we do?' And she said 'Why don't we body paint them the same thematic colours that are in the paintings?'

Mitchell: Yeah. Then the first night the kids pushed through the curtain, they don't do it anymore in the show, they had this body paint on. As they emerged from the curtain, they got green paint on the curtain, and we got hit for a drycleaning bill, both in Edmonton and Calgary.

Grand-Maitre: Huge. [laughs]

Mitchell: And it would have bought us great costumes. But anyway the body paint and costumes, the minimal-ness of them gave it a kind of Lord of the Flies, primitive, Mad Max quality. I think it really worked, even with the low budget restraint. When Jean went to work with Cirque du Soleil, they had millions of dollars to spend, [but] it's not as much fun. I'm used to working low budget, I've always had to work low budget, It creates invention out of necessity. The only time I doubted our costumes was when we played in Toronto...

Grand-Maitre: With the National Ballet of Canada.

Mitchell: The National Ballet is all going by in these $3,000 tutus and here are all our people in bathing suits with green paint smeared all over them. I went 'jeez, are we any good, or are we the hicks from the prairie or what?' But it was great. They gave us head stage, too. And the kids deserved it, too. It's a wonderful night out, I think. It's got the depth of a good play...there's nothing like it, it's really an original event.

Grand-Maitre: And the music of a genius,

Mitchell: Not just one genius. There's Wayne Shorter, there's a lot of geniuses on the records as well. And there aren't that many geniuses in any generation. A lot of people they call geniuses are great talents, but a genius is something unique. Wayne Shorter is a genius, Brian Blade, I think he's a genius too as a drummer. Although he's not on a lot of things in this ballet.

Sun: It's been very successful, it's been touring quite a bit, right?

Grand-Maitre: We're going to L.A. after Vancouver, a very prestigious performance in L.A. Two performances in LA., Seattle, Irvine. Also a B.C. tour, Nanaimo, Victoria. We had over 100 presenters wanting the ballet all over North America and Europe, and then the economic crash happened. Touring dance is more expensive than a one [night] stand of comics, so we lost some of the gigs, but they'll be coming back.

Sun: It must be kind of cool to play small towns like Vernon.

Grand-Maitre: We toured the prairies. The world premiere of the full length version was in Medicine Hat, then we moved to Saskatoon where Joni joined us with her 92-year-old dad. Is he 92?

Mitchell: No, he was 97, and he's 98 now.

Grand-Maitre: It was amazing, because her dad got to see all of her artwork come together in her hometown, Saskatoon: her painting, [her music and her art].

Mitchell: The trouble is he's deaf. He was a trumpet player and he's got a good ear, he would have loved it. But he's gone deaf. But he liked the spectacle.

Sun: Is your mom still around too?

Mitchell: She lived to 94 but she died a few years ago.

Grand-Maitre: In the middle of the creation, huh Joni?

Mitchell: Yeah. Right when we were working I said to Jean 'I've got to go see the old folks,' and took off when I was editing the ballet for television. I took off and went time to see them, and that was the last time I saw her alive. That was good, it was just intuitive that I felt an urgency to go and visit, so I did see her just before she died.

Grand-Maitre: We're hoping that if Joni feels good, she'll come and see the show in Vancouver as well, but it depends on how things go.

Mitchell: I'm doing my best. The trouble is what I have is accumulated from...I've taken a lot of diseases in my life, polio, chicken pox, scarlet fever, dengue fever, three kind of measles. All these things are viral and they stay in your system, so my body is like Afghanistan, it's full of syndromes. It all pools into a disease called morgellons, for which there is no cure. It's a complex infection. I can't afford to get a flu on top of it or anything. I'm pretty fragile and it's pretty uncomfortable.

Grand-Maitre: But if you're not there, you'll be with us in spirit.

Mitchell: Yeah. They wanted me for the Olympic opening, too. I'm trying to get well enough to make that. I'm trying herbs and all kinds of experimental stuff, because there is no known cure. You just have to experiment. There's a lot of maintenance, self maintenance. I don't want to dwell on it or anything, but I'm trying to get there.

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Added to Library on January 15, 2010. (12452)

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ssmycat on

Joni, it is sad to hear that your health is interfering with life. I missed you at the Olympics, the Both Sides Now portion of the program was breathtaking. You are to music what Isadora Duncan is to dance - both of you are bigger than your native country, touching the universal soul.

deeva716 on

Terrific article. I'm reminded of one of the reasons why I love Ms. Joni so much: read the part where she speaks about 'how white people feel rhythm'. She is so lyrical, even in conversation! Her thoughts when speaking are so musical - what an incredible explanation. Thanks for posting article. I wouldn't have seen it otherwise. Channeling positive energy to Ms. Joni.

TomBecker on

I've admired "the prairie girl" since the fall of '68, when I first heard Song to a Seagull. Her early work, in particular, remains some of the most inspiring poetry and beautiful music I've ever heard. It's very sad to hear that she's developed some serious health problems and I sure wish I could help her. Hang in there, Joni. I love you. [ed.]  [ed.]

stevengoetz on

Joni, you have been in my prayers and thoughts everyday since I heard about your illness. Please get well.
xx

doephillips on

This comment is written directly to Joni Mitchell if it is able to get to her. Thank you Joni for informing the press, and therefore, the world that you are experiencing illness and are not well. To say so to the press takes courage, especially a public figure such as yourself. Many of us as women have learned much about personal courage and honoring one's self through your music, your experiences with the music business,your art, and your dedication to forging your own path. I believe by sharing the fact that you are not well, it will bring more assistance and healing to you, more wisdom, more strong embraces from healers. May I suggest reading Jack Kornfield's "A Wise Heart; Mimi Guareni, M.D.'s new book "The Heart Speaks", and listening carefully to David Darling's CD "Prayer for Compassion" - David, a profoundly kind master musician who has offered generously his cello and insights for healing combined with every possible type of ethnic instrument and masters (including the drummers of Burundi) to advance the role of music for healing and not simply for commercial produciton. His latest CD finally won the Grammy for him Sunday, topping several other recordings that are produced in a way that many have turned to as their conduit for healing dream sleep. He followed his path after leaving the Paul Winer Consort and and took his message of improvising music to heal through teaching in small groups throughout the world. I hope you take the time to listen to his music and to urge him to play for you. I hope you will gain enough energy and passion to produce new music from your heart and soul and combine it with your stellar art. I was able to attend your exhibit in NYC and believe that you have much more to give us and stimulate our cells. I urge recording the new music in your soul,perhaps in way never experienced before, it may help bring you closer to healing/clearing and leave those of us who honor you,joy, to see you doing such work. I do urge contacting David Darling and let him bring his cello to your home. davidcello@mac.com
Kindest regards and blessings, Doe Phillips (Please urge the ballet producers to bring ballet to Princeton, New Jersey to McCarter Theatre - we will fill it up!)

Franklin58 on

I have looked up to Joni for more than half my life as an artist informing truth and honesty through her life's work. I looked up Morgellons, and while I will eternally love Joni's artwork, for the first time, I am frustrated by her inconsistency. It alarms me that she speaks candidly about the horrors of our world yet finds truth in medical terms that have not been proven through any advanced clinical research (especially since she often implies that science is a big business hoax). Her personal life has never interested me past how it informs her work, but when she is discussing illness and health, I find she embodies a personal imbalance: The same sort that she finds dangerously lurking in our world. Of course I wish more than anything that she will feel healthy and well.... This is more a statement about personal responsibility, representation and truth-making. While no one is obligated to be anything for anyone, when one has an opportunity to speak for others in a publication, it comes with responsibility. Sometimes, not always, personal choices do create certain risks. Health for our planet also comes from health and respectful choices for our bodies. If her artwork seeks change in the world, victimization is not a solution. Ultimately all personal choices lead us to the same political terrors we see enacted on a large scale.
None the less, get well Joni!!

Eleni17 on

Keep fighting Joni
We love you......

Jules on

I had heard rumors that Joni was sick, but this is the first that I've read where she's confirmed this. I know what it's like to have a body like Afghanistan and to get well again too. I also know what it's like to end up right back there again for entirely different reasons and feel incredibly fragile while fighting for your life. I hope she finds what she needs to get well and wish her all the very best in her recovery! ~ Jules

*I will refrain from offering advice as I'm sure she's had plenty, but she's always welcome to contact me if she'd like. Natural healing is my forté and I may be able to assist.