GENTLE, shy Joni Mitchell flew into London last week with her friends, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, to do her last concert for a long, long time.
Since fame caught up with her and propelled her to become one of America's top three female folk-singers - along with Joan Baez and Judy Collins--Joni has been fighting a losing battle against time. With constant touring she finds she has no time for her home or for her writing, and a long rest is vastly overdue.
"I would like the luxury of a day with nothing to do, so I could wake up and say 'what shall I do today?' It's been years since I could do that," said Joni, smiling nervously.
She was talking at a party given in her honour by her record company in London. Dressed in a long green skirt with a green velvet top and her long fair hair in pigtails, Joni looked 10 years younger than her official 26. On her left-hand was a collection of cameo rings which she twisted as she apologised for smiling ("I always smile when I'm nervous"). Her manager, a hippy happy American named Elliot, kept popping up at her elbow to help out and bring ginger wine.
"I need a rest," explained Joni. "I'm going through a change as an artist. I'm beginning to write on the piano which is a much freer instrument, and I want to learn the concertina and the violin.
"True I've had two weeks off between three weeks of touring, but when you know you're going back on the road there's so many things to do-every minute becomes vital - and my writing suffers. As a woman I have a responsibility to my home and it takes me a week to get the house reperking.
"My personal life is in a shambles, and it's hard on me knowing I'm not giving anything to people I love."
Home for Joni is a house of her own in Laurel Canyon, near Los Angeles.
"Most of my friends are musicians- I'm not very social. I'm a very solitary person, even in a room full of people I feel completely alone. You need solitude to make anything artistic. You need the focus which you can't have surrounded by people."
Nevertheless, between tours Joni bas managed to write many beautiful songs that have been recorded by so many other people that even if you don't know Joni Mitchell you will certainly know some of her songs. One that she should be justifiably proud of is "Both Sides Now," sung by many - most notably Judy Collins.
"When I first started Judy Collins was a great influence on me, so of course I was so pleased when she sang that. But she was really beautiful to me two years ago at the Newport Festival. She was singing·one of my songs, so she asked me down as her guest which was so generous."
Unlike Judy, who now appears in concert with a small backing group, Joni still prefers to accompany herself.
"I think a backing only waters it down," she says. "Other people onstage take some of the responsibility from you, and I also think it takes some of the dynamics from you."
"I'm very possessive about my own art-I think everyone is. I know how I want it to be and I have a very total picture of it. It's expanding now and I can see other instruments. I can't write music though, I sing different parts into a tape recorder. If I had two years off I'd probably go back and learn composition.
Unlike Joan Baez and Judy Collins, Joni is not a great demonstrator for peace. "I'm interested - everyone wants peace-but it's like some people go to church on Sundays and some don't, but they're still Christians.
"I feel that a lot of people actively working for peace do it for the wrong reasons-they are saying 'look at me, I'm working towards peace', and they are abusing the word.
Joni's concert is at London's Albert Hall on January 17. Try to go. Her spirit is refreshing.
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