If Neil Young has one foot firmly planted in the past, his musical colleague, Joni Mitchell, has established a firm entrenchment in the present with her latest LP, FOR THE ROSES, a hauntingly melancholy LP that is more autobiographical than any of her past hits. "She is searching, like any woman is searching," explains her friend and engineer, Henry Lewy. "The handicap she has is that, one, she's only meeting people in show business . . . so after the relationship matures there's the conflict of career vs. career. The other handicap is that to create she knows she has to have solitude. A lot of people can't quite see that. 'What do you mean you gotta go away. Don't I come first?' they say."
Joni's quest: The search for happiness has carried Joni from her native Saskatchewan, Canada, home through the Canadian folk circuit (with friends Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Gordon Lightfoot), and finally into American prominence five years later as a folk performer/poetess extraordinaire. After her marriage to Chuck Mitchell was dissolved in 1967 (he served as the subject for her haunting I Had A King from her first LP), Joni quickly infiltrated the California musical establishment, making friends with the likes of CSN&Y, who have added their accompaniment to each of her LP's.
But in 1970, at the peak of her flourishing career, Joni disappeared from public view. Interviews dug too deeply into her personal life, she claimed. "All people seemed interested in was the music and the gossip. I felt that the music spoke for itself and the gossip was unimportant." Her concert tours had been immensely successful gatherings, yet she felt unfulfilled. "You tailor-make your dreams to 'it'll be this way,' and when it isn't, it can't live up to your hopes." And, in addition, Joni felt too personally attached to her own work to handle performing the pieces in public.
Her men and her music: But despite her extensive travels and her varied friendships, she still turns her relationships with men into the subjects of her beautiful tunes. From the early days of I Had A King, up through LADIES OF THE CANYON's Willy, (about Graham Nash), Joni has turned the men in her life into the princes and sorcerers of her musical poems. And despite the fact that her old lovers usually remain her good friends, the unfulfilled romances make for melancholy songs:
Pack your suspenders. I'll go meet
No need to surrender, I just want
to see you again . . .
she sings in See You Sometime, a final good-bye to Sweet Baby James.
But perhaps her most revealing song comes from her experiences in the fickle music business. The title track, For The Roses compares the trials of an artist dangling on the seesaw of success to a horse running for the roses in the Kentucky Derby. Both strive for the sweet taste of success; the award-winning horse is later put to pasture and shot after breaking his leg. As for the artist:
Now you're seen on giant screens
And at parties for the press
And for people who have slices of
you from the company
They toss around your latest
golden egg . . .
I seem ungrateful with my teeth
sunk in the hand
That brings me things I really
can't give up just yet . . .
Back to life: Along with Joni's recent decision to immerse herself in the touring scene has come a renewed interest in the Hollywood social scene, and she has been photographed at such tinseltown events as the premiere of Warhol's Heat, and at a private party to announce Elton John's own label, Rocket Records, where she celebrated alongside Jack Nicholson, Kris Kristofferson, The Fifth Dimension and David Cassidy. Since her switch from Reprise Records to Geffen's own Asylum label, she has also set up her own music publishing company and begun serious work on a filmscript. "I could have sold it a million times over," confides Geffen, "but Joni was never completely satisfied with it."
But Joni is taking her step back into the present with caution. For she realizes that with any new-found freedom or decision comes "a lot of loneliness, a lot of unfulfillment. It implies always the search for fulfillment, which is sometimes more exciting than the fulfillment itself. I've talked to friends of mine who are just searching for something, and one day they come to you and they've FOUND IT! Then two weeks later you talk to them and they aren't satisfied. They won't allow themselves to think they've found it—because they've come to enjoy the quest so much. They've found it—and then what?"
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