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Joni Mitchell's 'For the Roses' is the perfect balance of love and breaking up Print-ready version

by Ray Levy Uyeda
National Catholic Reporter
September 3, 2022

Editor's note: Contributor Ray Levy Uyeda uses poetry to explore the love and ache in Joni Mitchell's 1972 album "For The Roses."

how does a breakup happen? / what is broken / split down the center / newly defined space between you and another / not the love that's broken, but everything that holds the love together: the time, the words, the attention / everything real and unholdable / unlike their body / everything you can't get back / all the wreckage /

she is in love / still / Joni Mitchell with James Taylor / as of the writing of "For The Roses" / her fifth studio album / 1972, written in the months after / you get the sense he wanted the breaking / you get the sense she didn't /

breakups are all backward / and backward looking / "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" / "Lesson in Survival" / "Let the Wind Carry Me" / "Electricity" (input output electricity) / "Blonde in the Bleachers" (you can't hold the hand of a rock 'n' roll man very long)

breakups are all questioning what life looks like for that person without you / "Blonde in the Bleachers" (it seems like you've gotta give up such a piece of your soul when you give up the chase) / "See You Sometime" / "Woman of Heart and Mind" / "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio" (I know you don't like weak women, you get bored so quick, and you don't like strong women, 'cause they're hip to your tricks)

12 songs / 12 breakups / 12 perfect songs / one breakup / the arrangements in "For The Roses" are more complex than those in her previous album / the one everyone says is her best / the one that sounds like a whisper / "Blue" / "For The Roses" has more woodwind and reed instruments, jazz melodies, interludes and a hit track

1971 / she / Joni / went away / away / away / back to the woods to read / philosophy and write / the songs for her next album / she was / down / depressed blue / in love and trying not to be /

the love is everywhere in / "For the Roses" / in the care Joni takes to describe Taylor's heroin addiction / Some turn to Jesus and some turn to heroin, Joni says / "Come with me / I know the way" / the song's siren, Lady Release, says / she says "It's down, down, down the dark ladder"

or the love in "Lesson in Survival" / with its lyrics that fall into each other / or the heavy / pauses that precede / You and me / Deep kisses / And the sun going down / later, in the second verse: I'm gonna get a boat / And we can row it / If you ever get the notion / To be needed by me and / to close / the words that comfort the breaking / I will always love you

with the breaking up / there is a wrestling with the wanting / and trying to not want / how not to want / when all you can do / is want / allows the wanting to eat within you / and there's / wanting for answers / wanting for love / or for the past to pull herself into the present / for the present not to ache so strongly / but the ache is strong / I will always love you / wanting can be / a fast way to lose yourself

or wind can bring you elsewhere / if you want / in "Let the Wind Carry Me" / she / Joni / sings And I want to settle / And raise a child up with somebody / only that the want / passes like the summer / I'm a wild seed again

did you become a lover / and how / and / where did you learn to love / from your parents / from your mother / from your father / what they did and did not do to each other / what they would not let you see / what they demanded you witness / how did you learn to talk

Joni sings through a character in / "Blonde in the Bleachers" / a figure who tapes her regrets / To the microphone stand / and sings / "You can't hold the hand / Of a rock 'n' roll man / Very long" / who is the man / who is "she" / she wants us to / Show 'em you won't expire / Not till you burn up every passion / Not even when you die / (how to be so alive that death will not come for you?)

after all / all words / in song and poetry / are just a way of making different sounds / with the body / what is the sound of breaking up /

"Woman of Heart and Mind" / she is coming out of the breakup / she is finally broken / enough / to see things / her past / her self / clearly / you don't even try / Joni sings / to us

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Added to Library on September 4, 2022. (1864)


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