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'Electricity' thread Print-ready version

Joni Mitchell Discussion List

JoniMitchell.com
May 2002

Discussion thread from May of 2002, compiled by Lori Fye

MATT:  Hi, my name is Matt and I'm new to the JMDL. There was mention of "Electricity" here recently, and I was just wondering, what is this song about? I'm very analytical of Joni's songs and just can't figure this one out. What are all these things references to? Like, "Proud headed Queen Lizzie" and the "masking tape." Any kind of stanza by stanza explanation would be really welcome. lol I hope this kind of discussion is done a lot here cause there are several of Joni's songs that I have trouble understanding sometimes.

Thanks a lot.

BOB IN SC:  Hi Matt, and a big welcome to you!

Song analysis is something that indeed happens here, among many other things. It's the reason I signed up many moons ago, and I discovered that's it's that and a lot more as well.

I like your question, and I'll take a stab at a linear breakdown of Electricity, when I get a couple of spare moments hopefully later today.

CATHERINE:   Welcome, Matt. I'm far too lazy to get into any line-by-line analysis of anything, but just off the top of my head, the copper, proud-headed Queen Lizzie would be a Canadian penny (has a picture of Liz on the heads side). A common and unsafe practice when a fuse blows is to put a penny in its place - don't try this at home, kids. I think she really meant electric tape, rather than masking tape (I've never seen black masking tape), but masking tape fit better in the song(or maybe Joni didn't know it was called electric tape.) ("The 'lectric tape tangles, it's sticky and black and the copper, proud-headed Queen Lizzie conducts little charges that don't get charged back." She's talking about fixing some wiring/electrical problems, but also about trying to fix a broken relationship. That's what it means to me, anyhoo.

BOB IN SC:  > Any kind of stanza by stanza explanation would be really welcome.

OK Matt...here's a shot at it, and I'll preface it by saying that I'm NOT an electrician, thankfully my incompetence as a handyman has not brought about my premature demise! (Especially as my next of kin doesn't have my list of "funeral songs"):~)

> The Minus is loveless
> He talks to the land
> And the leaves fall
> And the pond over-ices

Sounds like she's describing the other half of the relationship, how he seems to have some kind of earthly "power", but is "loveless" and doesn't have the same skills in the romance department.

> She don't know the system Plus
> She don't understand
> She's got all the wrong fuses and splices
> She's not going to fix it up
> Too easy

She describes him as a "Minus", and she's the "Plus", that is that they are opposites. (Conducting electricity requires a positive/plus charge as well as a negative/minus charge, like on transistor or car batteries). The two opposing forces have to be fused to generate electricity, and she says her "fuses and splices" are all wrong; that is she can't properly connect with him.

> The masking tape tangles
> It's sticky and black

Like Catherine said, this would be electrical tape, used to protect or bind wires. Another metaphor for her failure to make her relationship succeed.

> And the copper
> Proud headed Queen Lizzie
> Conducts little charges
> That don't get charged back

Like Catherine said, this refers to a Canadian penny, with Queen Elizabeth (Lizzie)'s picture on it. The copper used as a temporary fuse, again, not doing the job to fix the problem.

> Well the technical manual's busy
> She's not going to fix it up too easy

Here's an interesting metaphor...who's her "technical manual"? Myrtle, her mother? Or a close friend? Or a professional therapist? Regardless of who it is specifically, the person is not too receptive to being the resource that Joni hopes she would be.

> And she holds out her flashlight
> And she shines it on me
> She wants me to tell her
> What the trouble might be

So now rather than getting the desired advise from whoever the "technical manual" may be, they are turning the tables and asking her to define the problem. This leads me to believe that the "technical manual" is a professional, who's trained to ask those kind of questions..."so how did that make you FEEL", etc.

> Well I'm learning
> It's peaceful
> With a good dog and some trees
> Out of touch with the breakdown
> Of this century
> They're not going to fix it up
> Too easy

Here she appears to shrug off the inability of the "technical manual" to solve her relationship disconnect, and she retreats to the therapy of something with which she has a better connection with - nature. (Sort of a continuation of the "out of the city and down to the seaside", "Got to get ourselves back to the garden" kind of theme.

> We once loved together
> And we floodlit that time
> Input output electricity

Recalling the time when the relationship worked, and produced a light like a floodlight, which is a VERY powerful beam.

> But the lines overloaded
> And the sparks started flying
> And the loose wires
> Were lashing out at me

And the following deterioration of the relationship, again using the electrical metaphors to communicate it.

> She's not going to fix that up
> Too easy
> But she holds out her candle
> And she shines it in
> And she begs him to show her
> How to fix it again

Like you would light a candle to provide a minimum amount of light during a blackout, she shines a candlelight into the "blackout" of the relationship. Coincidentally, candles are also considered romantic, so she could be trying to symbolize the re-introduction of the romance.

> While the song that he sang her
> To soothe her to sleep
> Runs all through her circuits
> Like a heartbeat
> She's not going to fix it up
> Too easy

Like electrical current running through the circuit, the sound of his voice still resonates in her, and she appears to be hopeful, yet always realistically sceptical that it might not be an easy fix.

Hope that's sorta what you were looking for...maybe it will "generate" some more discussion from those who are "current" on the list! (groan)

JIMMY:  Thanks so much for posting your thoughts on "Electricity" Bob. It has always been one of my top 3 Joni songs, and it is one which is not discussed very much on the list. I remember one of my first posts to the list a few years ago was the same as Matt's. I had no clue to what the song was about. Many listers answered my question and it made much more sense. I think Joni was waaaaaay ahead of her time with this song, but it was always the melody that drew me to this song. I still think it's one of her BEST!

DAVID:  thanks for the analysis, makes sense to me - i had always kind of just dismissed the lyrics of this tune feeling i couldn't get my brain around it, although i've always loved the song and the album, FTR is usually in my top three. anyway i'm going to go have a listen right now

LAMA:  Welcome, Matt!

I'm a little analytical myself. At least that's what people call me on a*good* day. :)

If understanding what Joni might have meant is your game, you need to checkout this page: www.jonimitchell.com/lyrics/index.cfm Our host, Les Irvin toiled for decades to produce this hot-linked page of lyrics. While the "Proud headed Queen Lizzie" has already been decoded for you here on the List, you're sure to learn something in return for your time. And isn't that what drives analytical types? :)

BTW, we all know that Les cracked the code "Javex bottles on the tide". But have you seen the picture of a Javex bottle? http://www.jonimitchell.com/glossary/javex.cfm

Way to go, Les! You rock!

BOB IN SC:  Matt wrote:

> The Minus' talking to the land is what *causes* the leaves to fall and the > pond to over-ice. So she's giving him this godly power.

And that's the part of the song *I* was having trouble with, so you helped me to gain a better grasp of those lines - cool!

I was sort of a latecomer to For The Roses, I didn't pick it up until the late 80's, so all I ever had was the CD. I'm jealous of all y'all that spent evening's poring over the gatefold LP and these great words.

It's really a brilliant song, the normal writer would fall into cliche using this kind of metaphor, but of course Joni is NEVER normal.

HELL:  Bob wrote:

> > Well the technical manual's busy
> > She's not going to fix it up too easy
Here's an interesting metaphor...who's her "technical manual"? Myrtle, her mother? Or a close friend? Or a professional therapist? Regardless of who it is specifically, the person is not too receptive to being the resource that Joni hopes she would be.

That was a great analysis, Bob - and pretty much how I've always interpreted the song. But I do have another interpretation of the lines above. I always thought "the technical manual's busy" meant that it was busy, as in too fussy, or too convoluted for her to make sense of it. In other words, she's got a huge amount of advice about how to conduct herself in the relationship, and she can't decide which advice is best.

Just another take on the song, but you know there may be more..... probably as many as there are members of this list, at least!

BOB IN SC:  Excellent point, Hell! It also can be taken a bit more literally than I originally did, and she could be referring to an actual document, like in "Lesson For Survival":

"Guru Books, The Bible, only remind you that you're not good enough"

Thanks for the thoughts...you know I HATE it when you lurk. ;~)

ANNE:
> Well the technical manual's busy > She's not going to fix it up too easy

Here's another weird take on these lines. I always thought the way she sings them was interesting, with the syllable "man" being extended. So, I always thought she was saying that he (the minus) was busy, but that she couldn't quite bring herself to say that he was too busy to pay attention to her, so she says "manual," which could also mean she relies on him for doing the repairs. But, then reading Bob's interpretations below, I think that makes sense too.

> > And she holds out her flashlight
> And she shines it on me
> She wants me to tell her
> What the trouble might be
> > So now rather than getting the desired advise from whoever the "technical > manual" may be, they are turning the tables and asking her to define the > problem. This leads me to believe that the "technical manual" is a > professional, who's trained to ask those kind of questions..."so how did that > make you FEEL", etc.
> > She's not going to fix that up
> > Too easy
> > But she holds out her candle
> > And she shines it in
> > And she begs him to show her
> > How to fix it again
> Like you would light a candle to provide a minimum amount of light during > a blackout, she shines a candlelight into the "blackout" of the relationship. > Coincidentally, candles are also considered romantic, so she could be trying > to symbolize the re-introduction of the romance.

Then again, she's asking HIM for advice, so maybe he is the technical manual.

Ah, Joni is never easy :-)

MIA:  Bob, that was an awesome analysis of "electricity". I loved it! Joni is definitely the metaphor queen!

I read an article in the jmdl library a while ago regarding this song. I don't remember the name of the article, but the critic was reviewing "For the Roses". And I think he mentioned that the song "electricity" was about a car. He did, however, rip on Joni for using masking tape rather than electrical tape.

This song reminds me alot of Rickie Lee Jones' "Last Chance Texaco". Although, I think in "electricity" the point of view is from the car itself. And the car is making observations, while watching Joni and her "help" struggle with the repairs. The car is probably reminiscing about the good old days when it did run and when "they once loved together and floodlight that time".

I've always thought that the "minus" in this song was the minus on the thermometer dipping to those very cold temperatures.

I've always loved this song, too. It is one of my favorites.

BOB IN SC:  > And I think he mentioned that the song "electricity" was about a car.

And I wouldn't say that was wrong, but I didn't see anything in the lyrics that would indicate that. It appears to me that she's paralleling the nature of love with the electricity in general rather than its mechanical application to a motor vehicle. But the nature of electricity is such that it works in the context of a car (running vs. stalled) or a lamp (illumination vs. darkness) or anything that requires electricity. (Shades of MG's classic parody "You Turn Me On, I'm A Vibrator")... [ http://www.jonimitchell.com/parodies/parody21.htm ]

> He did, however, rip on Joni for using masking tape rather than electrical tape.

Hey, I'll defend Joni...whatever gets the job done! We've all probably used a screwdriver for a hammer, or used a hammer to knock a screw in! ;~)

> I've always thought that the "minus" in this song was the minus on the thermometer dipping to those very cold temperatures.

Very "cool" observation, adds some depth to the analysis. And it certainly works on that level...

Thanks Mia...and thanks again to Matt for "jump-starting the discussion in the first place. :~)

LAMA:  Mia said that Joni said,
"they once loved together and floodlight that time".

Mia, I always thought they floodlit *bad times*. Thanks for the update!

Bob in SC said,  and thanks again to Matt for "jump-starting" the discussion in the first place

Another electrical metaphor! Good one, Bob. Keep up the great work, Scout.

WARREN:  nice analysis of " electricity " bob, my sentiments exactly. it has always been one of my favorite tunes. i thought joni's clever use of metaphors was particularly genius as well. like you said, in lesser hands...

p.s. what took you so long to buy FTR ?

BOB IN SC:  I remember in the early 70's when I first heard Joni, I didn't like her voice (the higher pitched stuff). I loved Court & Spark, and HOSL & Hejira and so on, but I never really went BACKWARDS from C&S; until I joined up with BMG record club in the mid-late 80's, then I started buying up a lot of CD's, including the "pre-C&S;" Joni; Blue, FTR, LOTC, MOA, everything in fact except STAS which BMG didn't list. I got that one finally in the latter 90's from my local store. So as you can see my purchasing history for Joni's work has been pretty wacky. Remember too that (in the early seventies) I wasn't exactly running around with a crowd that was listening to/talking about a lot of Joni Mitchell!

That's why I appreciate a question like the one about Electricity, it forces me to dig down deep with these songs and I gain a fuller appreciation of them.

"SMURF" BOB:  The nice Bob writes:

it forces me to dig down deep

Careful, Bob. When you do that, you lose good sleep and it makes you heavy company.

BOB IN SC:  Lose good sleep? Heavy company? You're puttin' me in the mood for Jonifest, dude! :~)

GORDON:  Dear all...esp those commenting on the 'Electricity' thread.

I wondered, given Joni's predilection for word accuracy, whether masking tape was indeed a pun and intentional. Spoken masking, intent, masquing. Like Shades of Scarlett as opposed to Scarlet...though the latter is spelled a la 'Gone with the Wind' on the album. Ok I've flipped.. but it is possible ....isnt it? Get back to work Gordon

MAGS:  and now the alien shiksa:

I am enjoying this thread so much. I love Electricity, one of my favourites on For The Roses, (which is in fact, one of my favourite CDs, for the record), a real powerhouse of a song. So much going on. Have learned a lot from the interpretations put forth. Joni often deflects that question about what her lyrics are all about by asking what we think...Ive always liked that.

Gordon, I agree with your idea about the "masking" tape ... good call. This song is yet another example of Joni's ability to paint with words. Brilliant.

Some of my rambling thoughts...when discussing electricity the subject, references are made to parts as being female and male? (Male plugs into female outlet...that sort of thing).

When I went back to the lyrics and read the first line, The Minus is loveless...it made me think that Minus is some mythical creature, alone on a hill, and yes I realize that this has no bearing on the rest of the song... . (my mind works in wondrous ways at 5:30 a.m.

Reading through the lyrics, without the music, something I like to do, I find that the imagery in this piece outstanding...and I swear I recognize a couple of people I know. I cannot help but think how desperate she seems, she's the one who doesnt understand the system, she's the one with all the wrong fuses and splices, she's not going to fix that up to easy, or is that just my interpretation speaking? (rhetorical question, of course it is). :-)

I especially love this image:

we once loved-together
and we floodlit that time
input-output-electricity
but the lines overloaded
and the sparks started flying
and the loose wires
were lashing out at me

can't you just see those wild wires flying? *sizzle* can't you feel the heat of those initial days of new love? Then fear grabs you by the throat and what you believed was 'real' love/passion turns into that awful place of overload/burnout. Once the blackout occurs, she holds out her candle and she shines it in, which is just what happens. At that point, the sparks have certainly stopped flying.

Who is holding that flashlight and why isnt that same 'she' holding the candle.

and as a Canadian, I am always delighted when I recognize, with no need to explain, things like Proud headed Queen Lizzie's and javex bottles.

enough already.

BOB IN SC:  ...and I swear I recognize a couple of people I know.

Which is why so many of Joni's songs touch us so powerfully, because we can relate to them on this level because Joni is such a good writer. She draws us in.

I cannot help but think how desperate she seems, she's the one who doesnt understand the system, she's the one with all the wrong fuses and splices, she's not going to fix that up to easy, or is that just my interpretation speaking?

I think it's human nature (and perhaps even a "Mars-Venus" thing) for each party to feel like it's something they've done, or their individual fault in some way that the relationship is dying. That's why I've always loved "Jericho" so much - it recognizes love & relationships as a two-way street, not just a "Gee, I'm not getting what I want here" attitude.

CATHERINE:  When I went back to the lyrics and read the first line, The Minus is loveless...it made me think that Minus is some mythical creature, alone on a hill, and yes I realize that this has no bearing on the rest of the song... . (my mind works in wondrous ways at 5:30 a.m.

Like you, I love this song & am really enjoying this thread. Maybe you were thinking of the Minotaur who doesn't live on a hill, so much as maybe *in* one (or under one, wherever the labyrinth may be.) I think that's a great idea, whether Joni meant it or not!

MAGS:  that's exactly what i meant Catherine...trust me, in the wee hours of this morning when all of this started to brew, i was lucky to put a sentence together. I know, it's a bit of a silli idea but there it is. I was mortified to even post it considering all the brilliant ideas around. Oh well. The song IS fabulous and I am learning a tonne about it still. I didn't acquire For The Roses until a couple of years ago!

a long story ...

CATHERINE:  Not silly at all. It all has to do with the interconnectedness of things. At 4 a.m. I can solve all the mysteries of life. Unfortunately by 6 a.m. I've forgotten the thing entirely.

ANNE:  When I went back to the lyrics and read the first line, The Minus is loveless...it made me think that Minus is some mythical creature, alone on a hill, and yes I realize that this has no bearing on the rest of the song... . (my mind works in wondrous ways at 5:30 a.m. Like you, I love this song & am really enjoying this thread. Maybe you were thinking of the Minotaur who doesn't live on a hill, so much as maybe *in* one (or under one, wherever the labyrinth may be.) I think that's a great idea, whether Joni meant it or not!

Y'know, I don't conjure an image of a man either and I only realized that with this post. I kind of think of Joni's "Art" instead - sort of an idea of something instead of a flesh and blood human being. Hmmmm....

And this thread is great - and somewhat humbling! It makes me want to rethink how I interpret all of Joni's songs!

DEBRA:  Me too. Very interesting thread here. I've always taken this song as a straightforward faltering romance story, with the faulty electrical wiring being a metaphor for the energy no longer passing between former lovers. But now, after reading all the thoughts people here have shared about it...

Since the song follows her "pack your suspenders" song about James Taylor, could Electricity refer to the James Taylor, Joni, Carly Simon triangle? Usually talking about who a song may be about isn't very interesting to me except as one small aspect of the story. I only wonder now about who the characters may be because of someone's mention of another woman in the story, and, yes, there does seem to be another person involved. I'd always taken the "she" as Joni looking at her own behavior from afar. Moving on...

Reading the first four lines today I'm struck by what a cold guy this Minus must be to cause the leaves to fall and the pond to over-ice just by speaking. He's no Mr. Warmheart. Ok, so maybe it just happens to be almost wintertime when Joni wrote the song, but at the moment the image of him as cold and unwilling to connect fits the song. So Joni herself can be the proud headed (hasn't she often been called arrogant?) Queen Lizzie putting out little charges, and he's not returning anything. (The sparks and song he sang her to sleep are both in the past). The line" And she begs him to show her how to fix it again" is the saddest one in the whole song to me. It expresses the desperate attempt to get through to someone who's shut her out. Those warm memories cause her to beg, even though even she knows it's futile. And...

Minus and the mention of a minotaur make me think of King Minos, who claimed to be such a powerful ruler that he could rule nature (and the gods) and showed his power by praying for a bull to be created from the sea. One was, and it turned out to be such a beautiful bull that instead of sacrificing him to Poseidon, Minos kept it for himself, which made Poseidon so mad that he caused Minos's wife to fall in love with the bull. She was able to consummate her relationship with this bull with the help of Daedulus, an inventor, who built a structure that she could get into and fool the bull, and so she gave birth to the minotaur. Minos was pretty darn mad about that, and had a labyrinth built to hide the minotaur away in. Not sure what any of this has to do with "Electricity", but what I do find interesting is that both myth and song include a Minus/Minos who controls nature in a destructive rather than nourishing way and, if another woman is involved in the song, it may also be about possessiveness and duplicity (as the myth is). Minos was so angry at Daedulus that he and his son Icarus had to get away quickly, and to do that Daedulus came up with the wings design, which Icarus then took too far (and we all know what Joni did with that story). I think Joni read the Greek myths or maybe Joseph Campbell who was getting a lot of attention in the 70s, and, like she has with other things, took a few clues from it and then came up with her own unique creation. And just one more thing...

I love the way Joni uses images of light in this song. As a memory it was floodlights (overwhelming, input/output connecting), then a flashlight (focused and with its separate energy source), then a candle(not much illumination and no electricity at all). It's such a fine way of showing the mellowing down of a relationship to its present fragility. One slight breeze or one puff and there's complete darkness.

That's it for my bits about this song. Along with all this I also agree with everything else people have written about it. It's such a pleasant surprise that after "knowing" this song for so many years, there are all these new ways of looking at it.

LAMA (on day two of the headache from Hell -- no offense to my esteemed colleague in NZ.):   Great thread, you guys. All of you, thank you.

For this discussion, you may want to read along in your hymnal. The lyrics for "Electricity" are at: http://www.jonimitchell.com/lyrics/electricity.cfm

In "Electricity", Joni said,
the song that he sang her
to soothe her to sleep
runs all through her circuits
like a heartbeat

I can't even convey what these lines mean to me today. They are incredibly moving but I can speak their meaning. Now that I read them in isolation, the text says something different from the emotion that the *sound* has always brought up.

For me, in the context, she's looking back over a breakdown, a failure, and finding that it was profoundly valuable anyway. In fact, his voice is now her mantra, her heartbeat, even though it resulted in an overload, the potential danger of loose wires, and darkness. His lullaby is within her head.

The context of the song (breakup) conveys shadows, a setting, for the text. She's expressing her confusion to a female expert on darkness, (a therapist most likely, eh?). It's not simple, but she's working the problem within a structured environment. I think she's taken a hejira to the country and is doing a post-mortem.

She recalls the Light and Sound that was in her life but now it's the most troubling part. Why would you break up with someone who brought Light into your life? It's non-sensical. It's a paradox. How can one fix that? How can you break from your own "heartbeat"? Well, you can't fix it easily that's for sure.

For me, I find these lines moving because she's filled with a mantra yet supremely disappointed. She's singing a bitter & sweet duality that is a huge part of my life. No one gets duality right like Joni.

LAMA:  Anne brought up the use of the word "manual":

Here's another weird take on these lines. I always thought the way she sings them was interesting, with the syllable "man" being extended.

This song is sort of a bookend to "Handyman", made popular by James Taylor.(I don't know who wrote it- maybe Sam Cooke?) It's basically a songwriting exercise on a love song using electrician's metaphors.

Being a genius at wordplay, she noticed that an electrician has a "technical manual" and the object of her affection is a "man". By stretching out the vowel in "maaaaanual" is forces the listener to reconsider the word. She focuses us on the double meaning. This is reason #487,264 in Lama's leather-bound book of reasons why Joni has only one peer as a lyricist. Joni and Eminem.

MARY P:  Interesting discussion on "Electricity"!

For what it's worth, I always thought that the "technical manual" was Joni herself. The man formerly in Joni's life is now involved with a new love, but that relationship seems to be crashing and burning, just as his and Joni's did. The new girlfriend, realizing that Joni may be more aware of the reasons why this is happening than she herself is, shines her figurative flashlight on Joni to get some insight on what she might do to save her relationship. She even consults Joni, much as she would a technical manual for an electrical mishap.

Joni, however, is taking a break, and having none of it. She learning that "it's peaceful with a good dog and some trees." They'll have to find their own answers.

The technical manual is busy.

RANDY (waiting for the electrician or someone like him):   It's always been one of my very favorite Joni songs. Before I read the lyrics, I heard it as "the technical man is busy", which still makes more sense to me. How can a book be busy?

Yin and Yang, mother earth to father sky, man to woman....If I were going to pick a nit, plus and minus are attributes of direct current (DC) electricity, but the bit about shorting the fuse box with a penny applies to alternating current(AC) i.e. household current.

BOB IN SC:  How can a book be busy?

In the same way a painting can be "busy"; that is, there's too much going on with it for any focused clarity to take place. In much the same way as a song can be "busy", too many players, overarrranged, etc. I would think it's EASY for a technical manual to be Busy and cluttered and not user-friendly. I would say most of them are probably this way.

MAGS (l'alienne shiksa): ;-)  Right on Bobs, I think that the reason why manuals are "busy" is because they are written by the people who 'know' the mechanism or whatever very well, from the inside out, and that does not always translate into a language that those of us on the outside of that particular subject matter can decipher as well...at least imhe (in my humble experience).

RANDY:  In the same way a painting can be "busy"; that is, there's too much going on with it for any focused clarity to take place. In much the same way as a song can be "busy", too many players, overarrranged, etc. I would think it's EASY for a technical manual to be Busy and cluttered and not user-friendly. I would say most of them are probably this way.

Yeah, I get that aspect, but...I mean, a busy tie, yes...who knows how Joni meant it, but to me it feels more like she is talking about the wires being crossed and the tape tangled and then she says 'well the technical manual's busy'...I take it more as 'not accessable'....I think the word busy is sort of a songwriter's compromise type of word-yes, Joni does that occasionally-because it rhymes (sort of!) with easy.

Apart from the lyrics, this song has such a lovely melody, and a wonderfully odd placement of chords beneath it, the little timing eccentricities are awesome. The singing and background singing are very cool, and how the bass and drum become a 'heartbeat 'during that part of the song. FTR is really a collection of little masterpieces.

DONNA (also thoroughly enjoying this electricity thread):  Lama wrote:

By stretching out the vowel in "maaaaanual" is forces the listener to reconsider the word.

Tushie responded:

Likewise in the last line of the song:

"She's not gonna fix THAT up too eeeeeeeeeeeeasy....(12 notes i think?)

LAMA:  Bob, the South Carolina Joni Guy, said,

It's really a brilliant song, the normal writer would fall into cliché using this kind of metaphor, but of course Joni is NEVER normal.

Let's not overlook this grouping:

the song that he sang her to
soothe her to sleep

I'm sure everyone's hearing her phrasing in their heads as they read that. This is masterful stuff, people. For one thing, it's not sing-songy. It's so un-sing-songy that I'll bet some people think it doesn't work. I don't. The way she phrases "that he sang her to" scans very funny as text on a page. She even stuffs a preposition at the end of the line so she has to split the phrase. This is edgy stuff because it builds tension. It's an unexpected place to put a breath but it sets up the stacatto point: She's haunted not by his anger but by his kindness. She can't easily disassociate herself from it. He sang her to sleep but now it's keeping her AWAKE, so to speak.

Anyway, my original point was that her phrasing is mind-blowing. Who else in their right mind would say it like that?

BOB IN SC:  The way she phrases "that he sang her to" scans very funny as text on a page.

True, but it's not really isolated that way when you're reading it on the page, it's more like:

While the song that he sang her
To soothe her to sleep

Which scans pretty easily. But I see your point, and relating back to my earlier comment, your basic cliche hack (like Neil Diamond) would say:

Songs you sang to me
Songs you brang to me

Which you certainly wouldn't want to have for a mantra. Now, can we take this another step along and look at "Edith & The Kingpin" & the "wires in the wall humming some song, some mysterious song". Is there any relationship between the song sung in "Electricity" and the wires in the wall? The "mantra", as you suggest? Is she even referring to electrical wires, or something different? Are they the same "wires in the wall" in Man From Mars?

So much Joni, so little time...

MARK IN SEATTLE:  Now, can we take this another step along and look at "Edith & The Kingpin" & the "wires in the wall humming some song, some mysterious song". Is there any relationship between the song sung in "Electricity" and the wires in the wall?

I don't know about that, Bob, but I always thought there was a relationship between the wires in the wall in 'Edith' and the line 'through i-bars &girders;, through *wires* & pipes' in 'The Jungle Line'.

The "mantra", as you suggest? Is she even referring to electrical wires, or something different? Are they the same "wires in the wall" in Man From Mars?

I think Joni must have some special sensitivity to the sounds of electronic current. In the Gene Autry show she talks about the frequencies of light bulbs and how they're different in this country from, say, in Europe and goes on to make some joke about being attuned to the frequencies of the light bulbs in Ireland in another century or something like that. Her hearing must be very acute and I wonder if she is more cognizant of this humming from the wires in the walls than most of us mortal folk are.

WARREN (humming mysterious songs, ( probably written by joni ! ):   okay guys, didn't any of you folks do recreational drugs ? those wires in the wall are humming a mysterious song, or at least to edith they are after she has tilted " her tired face gently to the spoon." remember she is flying " snowblind." oh and by the way " she says - his crime belongs." this song is just fraught with drug references and would make it akin to " the jungle line," which also has them. ( is it just me ? ) tell me it ain't so...

p.s. didn't you guys hear those wires in the walls ?

MARK IN SEATTLE:  It ain't just you, Warren. I agree wholeheartedly. In Edith's case I think those humming wires are the result of being way too coked out. And I still think it's a reference to the drug network she describes in 'The Jungle Line' with all of that wires & pipes metaphor.

BOB IN SC:  Thanks for the illumination on that, Mark & Warren...having never done recreational drugs I didn't get that reference.

CATHERINE:  Let's not overlook this grouping... I'm sure everyone's hearing her phrasing in their heads as they read that. This is masterful stuff, people.

Your putting it that way makes me think of something else which adds another shading to it. The song that the sang her to -> she's the words, he provides the music. Probably doesn't fit the whole electricity thing, but interesting nonetheless.

Now, how about this one?

"We once loved together
and we floodlit that time
Input/output - electricity."

and

"Is this just vulgar electricity?
Is it the edifying fire?"

Compare and contrast.

This will be on the exam - winner gets a baker's dozen of cyber-cookies.

HELL:  Bob wrote: Which you certainly wouldn't want to have for a mantra. Now, can we take this another step along and look at "Edith & The Kingpin" & the "wires in the wall humming some song, some mysterious song". Is there any relationship between the song sung in "Electricity" and the wires in the wall? The "mantra", as you suggest? Is she even referring to electrical wires, or something different? Are they the same "wires in the wall" in Man From Mars?

Since I've been guilted into de-lurking, I might as well just keep going! Geez, Bob, and I was trying to get the boxes for the cover CDs finished....;o)

I thought it might be interesting to search for all of Joni's uses of "electricity" (or derivatives) in songs, and analyse them one by one. There are quite a few - some maybe a little far-fetched, but I've started, so I'll finish (of course, I may have missed a couple, too)! I'm not analysing the whole songs, just the phrases using those lines.

Electricity
"We once loved together, And we floodlit that time, Input output electricity, But the lines overloaded, And the sparks started flying"

Here she seems to be talking about the connection she has with that person, and how powerful it is. Actually too powerful, since the "lines overloaded". Although the sparks are flying, they're not "good" sparks, and she's getting burned.

Edith And The Kingpin
"A plane in the rain is humming, the wires in the walls are humming, Some song some mysterious song"

I see this as a similar reference to the first - she can feel that electricity starting to flow between Edith and the Kingpin, but it's not quite as evident, just a humming in the walls, that's gaining in power.

You Dream Flat Tires
"It came to pass, Like lightening striking from above, Electric flash, Just like lightening striking from above, Struck by precious love"

A pretty unambiguous reference - she's in that first flush of love, where every look and glance is like being hit by a lightning bolt.

Come In From The Cold
"Is this just vulgar electricity, Is this the edifying fire"

A more cynical reference perhaps - she's older and wiser, and acknowledging that the "spark" or lightning bolt may not mean true love (although sometimes it does!). Maybe it's the first sign of a possibility, hence the word "edifying". Before these lines, are the lines "And so with just a touch of our fingers, I could make our circuitry explode" which I think is another reference to the spark - but she's associating that spark with youthful enthusiasm, not the wisdom of age.

Yvette In English
"How did he wind up here again? Walking and talking, Touched and scared, Uninsulated wires left bare"

Not so much a reference to electricity, but to the rawness he feels around Yvette - raw and exposed.

Man From Mars
"The silence is so full of sounds, You're in them all, I hear you in the water, And the wiring in the walls"

I think this is very similar to the way she used these words in EATK, except in this case, although the sounds are there, she's imagining them, rather than them being real.

Love Puts On A New Face
"He said "I wish you were with me here, The leaves are electric, They burn on the river bank, Countless heatless flames"

Again, a more literal use of electric, referring more to the colour of autumn leaves, like fire - orange, red, brown.

Of course I'm sure to have missed a few references, and this is (the same old disclaimer) just my opinion. But you did ask!

BOB IN SC:  Wow - that was a pretty awesome piece, Hell! And I think you're right on with each of the references. Funny how Joni uses the "electricity" metaphor so often. Perhaps she grew up having to turn off lights & conserve electricity and grew to think of it as something precious. Maybe it's like Mark says, she has a much more acute sense of things like that then the average folk. She CERTAINLY has a better sensitivity to writing about it.

ROSE:  I thought it might be interesting to search for all of Joni's uses of "electricity" (or derivatives) in songs, and analyse them one by one.

There's another reference to "electricity" in Come in From The Cold

And so with just a touch of our fingers
I could make our circuitry explode

I don't think too much analysis needs to be done here, it speaks for itself. sexual congress, attraction

MIA (who should be studying for final exams right now):   I've been searching for that article I mentioned, but can't seem to find it. (Maybe I dreamt this.) Anyway, I pulled out my FTR guitar songbook today to look for other clues. Joni has alot of artwork that goes with her songs.

I found a couple of quotation marks in "electricity". The first one shows up at:

"She don't know the system............

The second quotation mark shows up at:

"Well, the technical manual's busy........

The mystery question then would be - who is speaking these parts in the song? Stranger yet, there are no other quotation marks listed.

The artwork that accompanies this song is a picture of a guy sitting by a pond with a good dog and some trees. I also looked at the cover of the songbook which has a painting of a horse's fannie with pictures inside. There is a car, but I think this is really the rented Rolls Royce from Barangrill. This painting is very interesting. Joni's face is on the horse's fannie. And dubbed over that, there is a bouquet of roses being held by women in 1930's (?) evening gowns, and a fish swimming (fresh salmon?)in the horses leg. I also see what appears to be an orange sun (the sun going down?) or moon (the moon swept down black water like an empty spotlight?).

Joni's lyrics, music, and artwork never cease to amaze me!

MARK IN SEATTLE:  There's another reference to "electricity" in Come in From The Cold
> And so with just a touch of our fingers
> I could make our circuitry explode
I don't think too much analysis needs to be done here, it speaks for itself. sexual congress, attraction

Actually I think most of Joni's use of the electricity metaphor refers to sexual energy more than anything else. I agree that the song 'Electricity' is about a failed romantic relationship but the 'electricity' is in reference to the sexual attraction which is only one part of it. In the case of this relationship it is so strong that it obscures everything else. All reason is cast aside when the heat gets turned up with these two people. It's so good that it's become difficult to give it up even though, overall, it's a bad relationship. For awhile the sex was good enough to make it seem like the real thing but eventually the couple's problems connecting on other levels were just complicated even more by the physical chemistry. I know when I was younger it was very easy for me to think I must be in love with somebody just because there was incredible physical chemistry between us. Too often for my poor foolish heart it just wasn't so or it was one-sided and I'm sure you can guess who the dumpee was more often than not.

Rose pointed out the line from 'Come in From the Cold' about the teenage Joni forced to stay a foot away from the boys when she danced with them and how one touch could set off explosions of newly born adolescent sexual energy. In the other line from this song 'is this just vulgar electricity/is this the edifying fire?' she wonders if it's the same sensation when her lover's leg touches hers under the table or if it's something loftier, somehow purifying and soulful. I think she means something purely physical when she talks about electricity in this song and in the song from For The Roses.

BOB IN SC:  I take it more as 'not accessable'....

And I agree, and that interpretation is consistent with what I originally said about the "technical manual" not being a literal manual but rather another person that she had been consulting.

JIMMY:   this song has such a lovely melody, and a wonderfully odd placement of chords beneath it, the little timing eccentricities are awesome. The singing and background singing are very cool, and how the bass and drum become a 'heartbeat' during that part of the song

You are so very right Randy! Although Joni uses some powerful lyrics, it is always the melody that keeps me playing this song over and over. In fact when I play "Electricity" in my car, I keep searching back to the last line of the song when she sings "She's not going to fix it up tooooooooooooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesy". I play that line over and over and it brings chills up my spine everytime. She really knows how to use her voice as an instrument!

(I can't believe it was 2 years ago yesterday when I saw Joni in West Palm on her BSN tour)

BOB IN SC:  You are so very right Randy! Although Joni uses some powerful lyrics, it is always the melody that keeps me playing this song over and over.

After all, if the music doesn't SOUND good, then why bother to begin with. I was just thinking this week about the fact that if you look at these three components:

-lyricist
-composer
-vocalist

So very few hit so high up on the scale in each category as Joni does. Add her ability as an instrumentalist, and she's a QUADRUPLE threat. How many of those are there? Not many, especially not over the time span she has covered.

KAKKI:  Since the song follows her "pack your suspenders" song about James Taylor, could Electricity refer to the James Taylor, Joni, Carly Simon triangle?

The first time I put on the album back in November 1972 and heard Electricity, I thought she was talking about Carly. The publicity about the triangle was fresh in my mind and Carly seemed to be exactly who Joni was talking to. In retrospect, Joni had a point. JT was a handful back then, and in a way I think Joni was saying "just you wait, Carly, he will be a handful for you, too." (Sorry to offend any for "gossiping" but from a female perspective, this is how I see it.)

Besides the message, the music and the lyrics are among Joni's most astounding. This is my second favorite Joni song, next to Judgment of the Moon and Stars. I don't think I've ever heard music that more perfectly expresses the cycle of starbursting love and high passion, the emotional roller coaster down and the stark pang of loss.

I'm convinced there is something magical in the water up in B.C. where Joni wrote the songs of FTR. They are so uniquely beautiful and apart from anything she wrote before and after.

MAGS:
> -lyricist
> -composer
> -vocalist

To which I will add:
-painter
-poet

(anyone else want to tag on some more dimensions of joni? how would you describe what Joni is all about and why you love her/her music so much to someone who was not familiar with her?

BREE (who thinks Joni is terrific. I can't stop....):   Thanks Mags, for the opportunity....

I would add:

One of the most incredible human beings ever, ever to walk this earth...who never ceases to amaze me.....my world would be a lot dimmer if she were not in it.....and she helps make it rich and interesting. As I said in post today....I'm discovering new sounds on TTT.....nuances....(the libations don't hurt this discovery either ;-) )A person I feel I must meet someday.....just to tell her thanks.....thank you for everything....thanks to Myrtle....(Shite...I forgot her fathers name...anyway....tell your parents thanks...for letting you express yourself the way they did. (drawings on her bedroom walls etc...) I'll stop....I hope other people chime in.

CATHERINE:  (anyone else want to tag on some more dimensions of joni? how would you describe what Joni is all about and why you love her/her music so much to someone who was not familiar with her?

Storyteller extraordinaire.

MAGS (wondering what song/CD we will study next at the University of Muller and hoping that someone is planning to perform Electricity at the Fest this year): 

I don't think I've ever heard music that more perfectly expresses the cycle of starbursting love and high passion, the emotional roller coaster down and the stark pang of loss.

this is one of the things that gets to me every time i listen to Electricity...I can feel that pang of loss ... gives me shivers and brings tears to my eyes. It just does. There is a longing as well as some kind of acceptance almost. And there's that melancholy feeling again, and she's trying to understand. She laments the loss, and at the same time seems okay with it, as hard as it is on her. Amazing what each of us reads into it :-)

Ever since Brei gave me my headphones, whole worlds have opened up in terms of how I hear music. And here it is, all of it, with no distractions. With 'diminished hearing', life is VERY frustrating at times because of all the subtle things I miss.

I'm convinced there is something magical in the water up in B.C. where Joni wrote the songs of FTR. They are so uniquely beautiful and apart from anything she wrote before and after.

The B.C. landscape is gorgeous, breathtaking. I haven't been there in a very long time, however I still remember it well. I can certainly see why this album in particular reflects Joni's immersion into such beauty all around her. So much power and clarity within each and every song. I am appreciating this CD like never before, thanks everyone for the contributions.

magic in the water...yea, it makes men do things like wear red shoes. ;-)

Kakki, you'd love it out there!

JANINE:  I received my dual package of winning CD's from South Carolina yesterday (Thanks, Bob!) They are not only beautifully labeled ,but boy do they pack a punch. The live FTR is incredible. With all this talk about Electricity, it was quite apropos to receive this special recording of it and others from FTR. Her voice is in top form on these and such EMOTION!!

I, too, have always felt Electricity was about my beloved JT who had to have torn her heart out, of course, I have to blame it on that darn Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire. I have also wondered if this song was not in response to Carly's frustrations with JT? She obviously still wants a connection to him despite the Minus's current lovelessness. She sees a change due to his uprising stardom (FTR), and maybe she's projecting some self-loathing because of what she felt the fame and industry did to her???? No matter, Joni still wants to SEE HIM SOMETIME. And if you've heard the 1970 BBC duet concert of them, it sounds like one of her happiest times. She is almost giddy. Plus, when he comes out on the stage at her recent TNT Tribute, and sings River, it is to me, her most engaged response...... and now he has twin babies to raise and she had 2 grandchildren!!! Where am I going here?

BOB IN SC:  And if you've heard the 1970 BBC duet concert of them, it sounds like one of her happiest times. She is almost giddy.

How true, Janine...if you wanna hear what people in love sound like, just listen to that recording!

PATRICIA:  It's basically a songwriting exercise on a love song using electrician's metaphors. Being a genius at wordplay,

Only Genie Joni could turn the mundane electrical ground into the mysterious "he talks to the land."

KERRY:  anyone else want to tag on some more dimensions of joni?

How about.... "A woman of heart and mind"

how would you describe what Joni is all about and why you love her/her music so much to someone who was not familiar with her?

Yikes. It's hard enough to explain this list and Jonifest to people! Two of my (ex) friends thought we were insane for having a Jonifest without Joni! :>)

CATHERINE:  You wouldn't believe how many people I *tried* to explain a Joni-fest to thought she was going to be there. I wish...

BOB S (BOBSART):  Just got back from 10 days in Paris - 1st time, very interesting city ;-). (had 8 hours on the plane today to list her albums in order of personal preference - only took me 2 hours to do it ;~)

Sure enough, I was sitting in a park, reading the news, and it still sure looks bad, 30 years later. Now, if I ever get caught up, perhaps I will write about the good stuff......

OK - back to business.

Topic 1 - Joni's charms - per Bob in SC, we get started with:

Composer (let's count melody, chord structure, rhythm)Lyricist (let's let poet fit in this category ?) Vocalist Instrumentalist (really, her contributions to the guitar - tunings, et al -are considerable)

To this I would add

Arranger Producer (she has made a list of noteworthy producers, if I am not mistaken)

So, if you are comparing, it is more like a "sextuple" threat. [Speaking of which, if only she weren't so darned homely ;-) ]

Oh, right, and as the others said,

Painter
Raconteur

Won't somebody please, please Help Me ? (Isn't that a Beatles song ?)

Topic 2 - (Psycho) Analysis

Or, why I think I like a song ( "I liked the words, and it's easy to dance to", extended):

I sometimes find myself analyzing songs (I am a little strange, but aren't we all ?) breaking them down - for evaluation purposes - into

1. Melody
2. Chord structure
3. Rhythm
4. Lyrics
5. Harmony and counterpoint
6. Arrangement
7. Vocal performance
8. Instrumental performance
9. Production/engineering
10. Magic (the connection among the pieces - especially the Lyrics with the Music)

The first 9 items go right back to Topic 1. They also reinforce for me why, on a gut level, I liked the Beatles and Joni the most. Of course, there were '5' Beatles, but there is only one Joni.

Topic 3 - Item 10 above

I had noted the connection between the music and the lyrics a couple of weeks ago in a post, in which I named a few 'later' Joni songs that I thought "had it" (that magical connection between words and music), and others that were good in the other 9 ways, but did not (IMO). I also quoted a couple of lines from "Lesson in Survival" that I thought captured the essence of this point.

FTR (the album) is very strong in this regard, throughout. Electricity is a classic example, and has always been a personal favorite of mine. But Cold Blue Steel is perhaps even more exquisite in this regard. Also outstandingly well connected are LIS, LTWCM, FTR (you can sort of hear the arbutus rustling in that song), WOHAM, YTMOIAR, JOTMAS. Even the Banquet, with its demanding tone (correct for a protest song) and the seagulls squawking and the water skiers gliding. This is very artistic, to me. I do not feel that that the 'connection' is as strong in Barangrill, See You Sometime and Blonde in the Bleachers, but you could do worse that fill out your album with those 3 songs. And 9 out of 12 special connections - when it is rare if even 3 or 4 cuts on an album "have it".

KAKKI:  Janine wrote:

I, too, have always felt Electricity was about my beloved JT who had to have torn her heart out, of course, I have to blame it on that darn Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire. I have also wondered if this song was not in response to Carly's frustrations with JT? She obviously still wants a connection to him despite the Minus's current lovelessness.

My next door neighbor in the college dorm was as much into Carly as I was into Joni and would talk to me about the JT connection. She's the one that alerted me to Carly's song "No Secrets" and said it there was a put down to Joni in it. I've posted the lyrics below. If true, I thought maybe Joni would see the song as sort of a gloat and thought Electricity was her rejoinder. Both albums were released in November 1972. [Speaking of] Robbie Cavolina, he once told me that Carly and Joni have long been very good friends, so bygones are bygones. ;-)

(We Have) NO SECRETS (Carly Simon)

We have no secrets
We tell each other everything
About the lovers in the past
And why they didn't last
We share a cast of characters from A to Z
We know each others fantasies
And though we know each other better when we explore
Sometimes I wish
Often I wish
That I never knew some of those secrets of yours

The water was cold
The beach was empty but for one
Now you were lying in the sun
Wanting and needing no-one
Then some child came, you never asked for her to come
She drank a pint of your Rum
And later when you told me
You aid she was a bore
Sometimes I wish
Often I wish
That I never knew some of those secrets of yours

In the name of honesty, in the name of what is fair
You always answer my questions
But they don't always answer my prayers
And though I know you say that it's me that you adore
Sometimes I wish
Often I wish
That I never, never, never knew
Some of those secrets of yours
Some of those secrets of yours
Some of those secrets of yours
We have no secrets
Telling each other most everything now

JERRY: 

I don't know, Kakki.

"you said she was a bore."

That can't possibly be a reference to Joni. Whatever she is (or was), it is never boring!

ANNE:  Ha- well I always thought the line was:

And later when you told me
You said she was a whore

so much for mondegreens!

LES R:  ..with all this recent discussion on Electricity......this from Bobbie Zee

'the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face'

visions of johanna

written in the chelsea hotel, my boss tells me.

1966 though.....

ASHARA:  Wow. This is one of the great pluses of being on this list. I am finally caught up after neglecting digests for weeks, getting ready for my son's Bar Mitzvah and the aftermath of catching up with the rest of my life. **Caution: the following statement may be considered blasphemous to some people on this list. Delete now, or forever hold your peace!** I have always been a "Joni-music-kinda-gal." I never sat down with the words and tried to analyze them, or look at the deeper meanings of the words. I have so thoroughly enjoyed this thread. Thanks Matt for starting the thread, Bob for picking up the ball, and everyone who has contributed so far. It has been SO interesting!

MARY P:  Such wonderful threads. . .such great Joni Content lately!

--What?? We do that here, too?? ;-)

About "Electricity": You know, I'd long assumed that some of the other songs on _For the Roses_, like "See You Sometime," were about James Taylor. However, although the timing is correct, I never made the Joni/JT/Carly connection with "Electricity." It feels dead-on right, though: in part, because I think JT could, indeed, sing a lover to sleep with a special song, perhaps an original one, and have it run "all through her circuits like a heartbeat" (what a relaxing voice!). I also think that such a gift would be especially appreciated by Carly, a singer and songwriter herself.

BOB S:  I've enjoyed reading the discussion here about Electricity. A lot of the listers have really given a lot of thought to their interpretations, and the multiple points of view have enhanced my appreciation for this song. It has always been one of my favorites, but I've never delved too deeply into the meaning of the lyrics beyond the basic premise of an electrical outage as a metaphor for a crashed romance.

Looking and listening now, I think I agree with those of you who see Joni, or the narrator, as an observer of the story rather than a participant. It seems like she's looking at the dissolution of a relationship between two other people, and when the woman asks for the narrator's advice (And she holds out her flashlight / And she shines it on me / She wants me to tell her / What the trouble might be), it causes the narrator to reflect on a time when she was in a similar situation, apparently with the same man. But all she can do is relate her own experience (We once loved together...)without offering any advice that will help the other woman fix it. Then the last verse leaves the woman turning back to the man and asking him to help put the relationship back together.

Anyway, that's my take, but I find that with Joni's songs, as with Dylan's, many interpretations and points of view can have equal validity. Thanks, Matt, for starting the discussion.

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