Joni Mitchell is becoming, as she approaches her 70th birthday, exactly what this country needs: a cranky, chain-smoking, female version of Don Cherry.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Vincent Elkaim // Hockey night in Canada
Let's get something out of the way right off the top, so you know where I stand, emotionally. So you get that I am invested, that I am writing from a deep-rooted place.
Joni Mitchell, the sweet hippie angel, won over my heart decades ago, strumming, singing away about a big yellow taxi, a poor sod named Richard, California and a coyote.
Ms. Mitchell is a sonic, bell-bottom wearing, high-cheek-boned, big-toothed, blond singing babe from Saskatchewan and frozen, and airbrushed in time, at least in my mind, as an otherworldly Prairies pixie with a guitar to pick.
Only now the pixie is picking fights, lobbing around opinions - about Saskatoon, Bob Dylan, the Summer of Love, feminists - like land mines and becoming, as she approaches her 70th birthday, exactly what this country needs: a cranky, chain-smoking, female version of Don Cherry.
Yes, another blowhard, another teller of uncomfortable and, ah, quite possibly dubious truths - without the starched collars and the loud suits. Instead of slamming Swedes and French guys in visors, while praising old-time hockey and warriors on skates, sweet Joni has been taking shots at her hometown.
"Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community," Ms. Mitchell said in an interview with The StarPhoenix of Saskatoon earlier this week. "It's like the deep south."
Saskatoon. Southern Alabama. You see the connection, right? It is just as clear, and just as bright as some of the connections our dear old Don makes, god love him, truly, when he gets all fired up on Saturday nights and careens into a catastrophe of syntax.
Ms. Mitchell's ire for Saskatoon was stoked over her "stuff." Some dresses and scrapbooks that some hare-brains (my words, not hers) with a vision of honouring the local girl made good with, well, something - a Joni Mitchell cultural centre, a statue, a café, an art gallery - have been holding hostage for years while accomplishing nothing concrete, an ongoing inertia that finally prompted the famous musician to ask for her things back.
"It's time to retrieve everything," Ms. Mitchell said. "I just want my stuff back. I have a place to store it.
"It won't be of any use to Saskatoon."
Saskatoon now joins Bob Dylan in the Joni Mitchell diary of things (people, places, ideas) she doesn't like very much. The tambourine man took one to the chin three years ago, when Ms. Mitchell told a Los Angeles Times reporter that Mr. Dylan was a "plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception."
In the same interview she said this of American culture in the 21st century: "Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point."
Asked to clarify the Dylan comments in a recent CBC interview, Ms. Mitchell dismissed the Times article by castigating the writer, calling him a "moron," before effectively restating what she had previously said about Mr. Dylan.
"I like a lot of Bob's songs, though musically he's not very gifted," Ms. Mitchell told CBC. "He has borrowed his voice from old hillbillies.
"He has got a lot of borrowed things. He is not a great guitar player."
Frankly, he is not much of a singer, either, but try telling that to Dylan devotees and the disciples will prattle on about his poetry, how soulful and rich it is and, lately, for sale, to advertisers, for use in their television commercials.
Ms. Mitchell, unplugged, is selling us something else: authenticity. She is telling it like it is. Or, at any rate, telling it like she thinks it is. Blaring her thoughts. Bashing her hometown. Bashing Bob. Bashing, you name it, from the lofty perch of someone who has a mansion in Los Angeles and a pristine getaway on the B.C. Coast.
Her candour extends to the sisterhood — “I am not a feminist, I don’t want to get a posse against men,” she told CBC — and to her own airbrushed age. To the Sixties, to where it all began, when she played in coffee shops while the long-haired crowd spouted a philosophy of peace and free love.
“Free love, come on, it is a ruse for guys,” Ms. Mitchell told CBC. “It was this thing for guys, coming out of prohibition.
“It was hard to get laid before that.”
And for Joni Mitchell, it is apparently hard to get her stuff back from Saskatoon. Hard to get along with Bob Dylan, and hard to keep quiet, like that other loudmouth we all know, with the loud suits and the loud opinions and, it seems, a famous Canadian songbird standing by his metaphorical side.
Singing songs, speaking simple, ah, truths, that aren’t always easy to listen to.