Let's get the perhaps obvious but certainly important statements out of the way first.
Joni Mitchell is playing at the Canterbury House this weekend. See her.
Seriously. There is so much there. She is a beautiful woman standing alone on stage. Her voice and her acoustic guitar are free, pure instruments in themselves; there is an additional beauty in the way she uses them to convey such a full range of idea-emotions. But if she looked like your grandmother and her voice cracked and she only knew three chords, her performance would be justified by her songs alone.
As a songwriter she plays Yang to Bob Dylan's Yin, equalling him in richness and profusion of imagery and surpassing him (until "John Wesley Harding" perhaps) in conciseness and direction. But the sterility of analysis into categories like theses (what is "richness of imagery," anyway?) misses the prevading [sic] undercurrent of the songs of either Joni or Dylan, and in Joni's case that undercurrent is very immediate.
Perhaps one of the best words to describe it is joy. Not happiness as such, but the positive unity of human experience. "He Comes for Conversation" is as good an example as any. It combines grapes, cheese, rings, and a first-person feminine viewpoint with an irony that is delicate, yet near-sociological in its exactness, to describe a frustrating drawn-out relationship. But all through the song the listener is thinking things like "my God, that's the way it is, but why didn't I realize before that it was beautiful?" Her songs are the best of strange experiences because they make you realize that human reality is the best of strange experiences.
Someone at the Canterbury House wrote upon an advertising sign for a radio show, "God is alive in Joni Mitchell." I wouldn't know, myself; I don't know the woman. I suspect very strongly that God likes her for what she does in taking aspects of her own person - her voice, musical ability, charm (a word from the early fifties, but it fits) and aesthetic sense, and using them to formalize a tremendously insightful vision of how it is to experience this human time and place, to formalize it into an immediate and affecting popular medium. The vision comes from Joni Mitchell, it is readily accessible to you this weekend, and in terms of human experience, at least, it is a free gift. I for one accept with thanks.
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