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A Conversation with Joni Mitchell   Print

  Skip Weshner Show Live – May 1969

by Skip Weshner
Skip Weshner Show
May 1969

(Guitar tuning)

Skip Weshner: Yes, that's a good way to start. We tune down to where the world is.

Joni Mitchell: Do you have a capo, Skip?

SW: Yes, I do. Right on the George gooby thing. We're living-rooming it with Joni Mitchell and Elliot Roberts, and it's about time.

JM: It's strange having two frets less on the neck, you know?

SW: That's right, you're used to a 14-fret neck.

(Sings Morning Morgantown) - (hits wrong chords)

SW: Can't get there?

JM: Sure I can. I just have to work at it.

(Starts again)

(Applause and whistling in background)

SW: West Virginia. Who's that fresh kid over in the back?

JM: Who's that kid?

SW: Yeah.

JM: That's Elliot Roberts, my dear friend and manager. Stand and take a bow.

SW: If he's gonna yarp, tell him to get on a microphone!

Elliot Roberts: That was it.

SW: That was it? Coward! Coward, coward, coward. Terrible people, managers.

JM: No, not this one (laughs).

SW: No, I gather that for some strange reason. The usual -- you know, he doesn't smoke a cigar, one - I do but he doesn't - and two, I asked him 'Go listen to a friend of mine - no names - because this friend of mine I consider a major talent. Very major talent. And he needs management. Badly!' And Elliot went and saw him and he came back and I talked to him and he said, 'no, he's not my kind of thing' and what have you. Most managers don't do that. Either they go for what's already making money, which is one thing. Or else they go for anything that might look potentially - what have you - and if they've got a couple of people that are doing very well for them, etc., etc., etc. There's always somebody else they'll pick up but he stayed on principle. He didn't happen to dig the kind of thing -

Elliot Roberts: Bob Dylan!

(Laughter)

SW: You know, I would have done the same thing with Dylan in 1961.

How often do you get the business about Saskatoon?

JM: Oh, people ask me about it. I guess people are kind of curious about it, having heard it mentioned in a Bing Crosby movie once.

SW: Which one?

JM: Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Did you ever see that?

SW: No.

JM: Well, you know the story about a Connecticut Yankee goes back in time to the time of King Arthur's Court and everything, and Merlin gets really jealous of him because of all his 20th century magical powers. And so he's about to be hung and he knows though that particular day there's going to be an eclipse of the sun so he's trying one last trick, and he's standing up there and they're about to put the rope around his neck and he's waiting for the eclipse of the sun and he's murmuring all these magical words and he went "Bibbipty Bobbipty Boo, Kalamazoo, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan" and put us on the map!

SW: Right. What is it, a wheat farming town?

JM: Yeah, it's a city. 200,000 people.

SW: Small town, yes.

JM: But it's a good place to come from, I guess.

SW: Where - you know, we said we don't do interviews, we just have conversation but there's one thing I said before that I was curious about. Because in your first album you gave special thanks to a teacher -

JM: Mr. Kratzman.

SW: Mr. Kratzman. Was he an English teacher?

JM: No, he was a 7th grade teacher, and he was really a regular fellow, you know? We - at that time, you're especially needing I think the kind of teacher who is real and who doesn't have that barrier, student-teacher barrier. And we used to throw chalk brushes at him and he'd throw them back and he encouraged that kind of tomfoolery but when he said "Stop!," you know if one piece of chalk went flying after that or if you broke his discipline once he had set it again and restored order, he was really upset. And we all knew that like his wrath was terrible, you know? He got all of that kind of wildness out of our systems and then we were ready to do anything for him. He was a great psychologist as well as a fine English teacher, and those were - his two best subjects were History and that year we happened to be studying Australia and he was an Australian, and so that was great, and English.

The only thing that he encouraged in writing was that we wrote from our own experience, or we wrote things that we liked. He would let the boys write about squashed bugs and he'd let them write horror stories and all the things that boys of that age like to write about, you know?

And he didn't mark you on - he just wanted you to be original and honest to yourself and to others in the writing. He was a great teacher.

But I also think that my mother - I should have put "Mr. Kratzman and my mother" - who made me appreciate words, and my father actually, because they both spoke very good English around the house, you know what I mean? I mean they went out of their way to encourage me to be literate. (Laughs) I don't know how else to explain it.

SW: It was a house full of books?

JM: Yeah.

SW: Yeah, it helps, doesn't it?

JM: And I always liked the pictures better than anything else. You know, I never was a reader very much. So most of the learning took place over the dinner table and things. We bandied words around. My mother always helped me with compositions, and she was always quoting Shakespeare and Robby Burns and, you know, she was great.

SW: When did you start - when and how did you start writing? Did you write only for songs or did you start writing poetry when you were a kid?

JM: Oh, I started writing poetry in Mr. Kratzman's class. We began to really get into creative writing, you know. I remember writing about "ribbons of silver rivers" and things like that, and I wrote a long narrative poem about a stallion at that point. And then I didn't write until I was about 14 and I - this was extra-curricular, I mean we wrote in Composition classes and things. But I wrote a poem sitting under a hair dryer getting ready to go to a prom when I was 14. I was reading a movie magazine because that was the only thing that they had to read at the hairdresser's and True Love Comics, (laughs) and I was getting my hair done in one of those fantastic "new" at that time bouffant, bubbly things, you know? With lots of lacquer and everything on it and (laughs) -

SW: If that's the case, if anybody bounces you on your head while you're dancing, no damage, right?

JM: (Laughs) Right! So I was sitting under there and I was reading about Natalie Wood or Sandra Dee and Bobby Darrin or something like that -

SW: That's thrilling, isn't it?

JM: -- and suddenly I said, "My God! I really wouldn't want this blasted all over the school paper if my boyfriend and I - if he was seeing somebody else on the side, what a terrible life it is.

So I wrote a poem, and I think of it now as being kind of prophetic because I didn't know that I was going to have anything to do at that time with "the wonderful world of show business" but it went -

SW: I hope you put that in quotes.

JM: Yeah, of course (laughs) "the wonderful..." It went - It was called The Fish Bowl:

The fish bowl is a world reversed
Where fishermen with hooks that
Dangle from the bottom up
Reel down their catch without a fight on gilded bait
Pike, pickerel, bass, the common fish
Ogle through distorting glass
See only glitter, glamour, gaiety
Fog up the bowl with lusty breath
Lunge towards the bait and miss and weep for fortunes lost
Oh, envy not the goldfish, my friends,
Though he be decked in golden garb and
Labors not for next repast but earns his keep by
Being merely beautiful
A pet to all the oglers
Who come and say "Look there! I do believe he winked his
Eye at me!"

SW: Oh, wow.

 

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