I held Joni Mitchell responsible for my status as a perennially single woman. Maybe that was too much to pin on a singer-songwriter. But early on, Joni's music schooled me about what might be ahead on the romantic front. Ever since I heard her sing "Court and Spark," her musings about love and California have worked their way into my psyche and my life.
At 16, I hadn't kissed a boy, but I'd already learned how he could court me, love me, cheat on me, and take off to play his music in a desert town. I applied Joni's lessons to my imaginary boyfriends. Through those fantasies, I'd had some pretty advanced relationships long before I ventured into actual dating territory.
Under the influence of that voice - a soaring soprano that could go anywhere and do anything - I imagined a passionate life with a man I adored, a man who loved me back.
To be fair, I can see now that my skewed view of romance wasn't completely Joni's fault. As a hard-core Partridge Family fan a few years earlier, I'd cultivated many of the same beliefs. Music has always held sway over me. Whether the performer was David Cassidy or Robert Plant, I listened for the same message: Love is the greatest, love is the most gut-wrenching.
Listening to songs like "This Flight Tonight," I understood that lamenting over love offered nearly the same bang as finding love.
You got the touch so gentle and sweet But you've got that look so critical Now I can't talk to you baby I get so weak Sometimes I think love is just mythical
Even Joni's images of California had their way with me, luring me from my comfy hometown in Maryland to a spot squarely within reach of two famous landscapes from her songs: Laurel Canyon and the Pacific Ocean. Because I hadn't tracked down my man on the East Coast, I suspected he might be tucked away somewhere in the thick of Joni Country.
So I moved to Los Angeles and nearly landed in the arms of a skittish man who responded to my mention of Joni's lyrics online. I'm guessing at least a few women might pause before dating a guy who professed his love for Joni's music. After all, most of the men in her songs don't stick around. Later he made and broke three dates in quick succession.
It's been quite a while since Joni's music made its initial imprint on me. But I am still bent on seeking out anything Joni related, including an L.A. art show of her paintings and a tribute performance in which actor-singer John Kelly nailed the essence of her songs.
When I had the chance to see her live at the Greek Theatre in 2000, I made sure I went with a friend who shared my passion for her music. I wasn't about to exult over prospective and failed romances with just anyone.
A few years later, I took a new beau to UCLA's Royce Hall for an Alberta Ballet concert, which was set to her music. My date wasn't a real fan of hers, but lots of us will try almost anything on the early dating frontier. The show featured songs rife with ecological and political commentary. Post-performance my date and I hashed out the evening's virtues and flaws. There was some gorgeous dancing, certainly. But what surprised us was the relentlessly dark view the songwriter presented of a world bent on destruction. The paving of paradise had turned into a full-tilt warning that Armageddon was near. The absence of love songs was conspicuous.
I hadn't realized how dark Joni could go. I suppose the high notes that she easily finessed had helped me block out the underlying black and discordant tones.
Since that evening, my affinity for her music hasn't so much cooled as shifted. Her moments of optimism are what I find more appealing these days. I cashed in my long-term relationship with lamentation for the belief that lasting love is possible for those who are lucky enough to find it, choose it, and bust their chops to maintain it.
It's been two years since that ballet performance, and now I'm engaged to Tom, who was my date that night. Much to my surprise, he has attended other dance concerts with me.
He works in the transportation industry, and coincidentally transit plays a big role in the Joni oeuvre. Planes, freeways and cars regularly keep people apart. When my fiancé talks about drivers and passengers, though, I don't think of cabbies coming to take lovers away as they do in "Big Yellow Taxi." I think of the drivers going to airports to bring lovers home to their adoring partners.
Clearly, all the years of pining to the soundtrack of Joni's voice paid off. I'm going to marry the man I love, whom I met in California. And I hear that next year, the Alberta Ballet will set dances to her love songs. I suspect I'll have a pretty good date that night.
Sturza, formerly a Times Community News reporter, lives in Glendale and is a freelance writer and graduate advisor at USC.
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