LIBRARY: Articles    

Inner View   Print


Jim Ladd
December 29, 1980

Jim Ladd: Good evening, everybody. I'm Jim Ladd. Six years ago, before the very first interview show had ever played on a radio station anywhere, I sat down and drew up a list of names of the artists that I most wanted to do, artists that I thought were most worthy of the time and energy that would be required to make Inner View the type of program we had envisioned. Included in the top five of this list was the name of Joni Mitchell. Now, six years later, this Inner View is about to be realized. The rarity of this encounter that you are about to hear cannot be overstated or over-anticipated.

Joni Mitchell: I just don't do interviews very seldom [sic] --

JL: Obviously, Joni. How long have we been waiting?

JM: (Laughs).

(Music up: "You Turn Me On, I'm a Radio.")

JL: We are very proud to bring to national radio for the first time a two part special Inner View of Joni Mitchell, which we taped in Laurel Canyon, California. For those of you who are acquainted with Joni's history, you know that Laurel Canyon is an area that holds a good deal of memories for one of music's most gifted composers and musicians.

JM: Ask any Californian where the craziest people are and they'll say Los Angeles. Ask anybody in L.A., you know, where the craziest people are and they'll say Laurel Canyon, and what was the craziest street was Lookout Mountain. So there we were, Elliot, myself, and David Blue, and a whole lot of us strung all the way through the canyon. The Eagles came in later and it was quite a neighborhood. Everything was in upheaval if you remember. The things that were pleasant about the 60s were pleasant in Laurel Canyon. The things that were horrendous about the 60s were horrendous in Laurel Canyon, you know, so it had its ups and its downs, but the smell of the canyon is beautiful. All eucalyptus. And there's a different smell here than in any other neighborhood it seems like to me. I get nostalgic coming back into it.

(Music up: "Ladies of the Canyon.")

JL: From the very first, Joni Mitchell embarked on a creative sojourn in art that encompassed not only her singing and composing but painting as well. Musically, Joni Mitchell is by her own definition an insatiable student, an outlook that has made demands on not only herself but her audience as well. For to try and categorize Joni Mitchell as an artist would be like trying to focus a camera on smoke, impossible to hold the shadows and light in anything as slow or static as a shuttered lens.

JM: I'm not a jazzer, I'm not a rock and roller, I'm not a folkie. I'm just a musician. I just go in and out of these fields, you know, at will, which is a very luxurious position. The more experimentive you become -- by that I mean willing to take chances -- the more chances open up to you. Charles Mingus was a great opportunity. That was like, you know, going to the first class college of jazz. I mean, he was one of the great living masters at that time. You know, with Parker gone and of course Miles is still around but he doesn't play anymore. You know, so I'd been dabbling with jazz voicings and playing with jazz musicians within the structures of my own music.

(Music up: "Centerpiece.")

JM: To be invited to play jazz, I mean to really sing those things, which are almost like arias, you know, solos and a lot of movement to them, it was a great opportunity, you know. So whatever comes out of me now is going to be changed by that experience. And whatever change comes out of me will draw in other people who are -- you know, with interesting projects. So it just keeps going on and on and on. It's not change for change sake where I'm concerned. I have to have my heart engaged in it and it has to be, you know, a genuine inspiring force. Otherwise, you don't have the courage.

In rock and roll -- these are two generalities now -- rock and roll, generally speaking, you're going to try and duplicate your record. That's going to be a good performance. The closer you can get to your best take in the studio, right? With some liberty for phrasing.

(Music up: "Raised on Robbery.")

JL: Do you have a man right now?

JM: Mm-hmm.

JL: How long have you been with him?

JM: You don't really want to get off on this. Whenever possible, I try to have a man (laughs).

(Music continued: "Raised on Robbery.")

JL: We're back now with our Inner View of Joni Mitchell.

You said once that the reason you became a confessional poet was that people seemed to like you for the wrong reasons and that -- and not for the real you. Can you explain that for us?

JM: Well, it's just a personal reaction. You go through all kinds of maladjustment to success. Some people think that they deserved it all along, and some people feel that, you know, they're not worthy of it to one degree or another. I just felt that to see people rise en masse with adoring looks on their face to something that hadn't even scratched the surface of who I was or -- I felt that they should get to know me better. That was the initial instinct. Then it became something else, actually. It got to the point where the only time that I could tell when a song was finished was when I had cut through layers and layers of my own vagaries until I got to a point where I understood something about myself, at which point I would feel lighter, it would lighten something in me, and that's when I knew that that was the pertinent thing that that song should contain. And once I played that in front of people, I found that if you were interested enough to listen to it, it could take you through a kind of heavy place and then lift some weight off of you, just as it did off of me as the creator.

(Music up: "All I Want.")

JM: So then I began to feel that I wasn't in these things alone and that there were enough people who could listen to me saying "I" and make it their own "I," you know. Then I wasn't just a nude up there, you know, jumping around for some kind of crazy pleasure. And that still holds true today. Like before I was beginning to feel more and more alienated from my audiences because I thought, you know -- think of an audience as an individual. No matter how big it is, it's kind of like one person, you know. How close can you be to another person if you know that you're kind of schmoozing them? Say there's a girl that you like but she's falling in love with you for your friend. How close are you going to feel of her? You're going to become contemptuous of her for falling in love with your friend.

JL: Personally I'd just have fun with the girl for the night and then say goodbye and then say if you like the friend, then hey.

JM: But that's California, isn't it?

JL: Oh, listen to this. Yes, it is as a matter of fact. It is California. It is.

(Music up: "Blonde in the Bleachers.")

JM: So that's what happened between me and my audience. So there was like this -- I was feeling more and more withdrawn. The more that -- not that the first -- the early songs -- were shallow; they weren't. But some impulse in me said I have to -- if they're going to look up all moony like that at me, you know, I want to know if they'll like me if I tell them how I'm really feeling, you know. Sometimes I would have these feelings that it was just too intimate and I wouldn't want to be intimate with that one person. You know, on a schedule and you're touring and you've got to go out and be intimate with this person, you have no free will over the matter, you know. And then the problem of relationship between me and my audience would be complicated again, but it's the same as relating to an individual really.

(Music up: "Jericho.")

JL: We're back now with our Inner View with Joni Mitchell and what was to me some rather surprising revelations for anyone who began listening to Joni in the 60s and came to identify her with the radical idealism of the times.

JM: For one thing, I didn't really identify with that. To me, it wasn't really radical change, the 60s. The costumes were the change. You know, for all physical appearances people had painted geometric designs on their faces and they were wearing jester's costumes, 14th century looking apparel, and they'd grown their hair long. I think the style was the most radical. Nothing really that startling came upon me in the 60s. I don't think I've changed very much in my thinking since I was maybe 10, you know, generally speaking.

JL: Oh really?

JM: Nothing really radical has changed. Things that I observed on the playground in the third grade were fairly astute visions in the small, later to be applied to high school, later to be applied to committees, later to be applied to politics, you know, later to be applied to the world.

(Music up: "Songs to Aging Children Come.")

JM: I didn't feel a part of the 60s even though that's the part I'm accredited. Mine was an internal revolution. In the 60s I was going through more what people were going through in the 70s in a certain way. You know what I mean? I was going through more of a personal revolution. I didn't find a lot of the leadership in the 60s particularly inspiring in government or within our own peer group. I always felt that we were rather fleas on an elephant's leg and much more powerless than we would want to trump one another up to believe.

So the transition wasn't too radical for me. Phil Ochs, of course, when the war ended, he ended. You know, there were some people that were very caught up in it. I'm not a political person. My interest has always been in the spiritual, and they stand in direct opposition in a certain way. Mine has been a freeing of my own bigotry, you know. You need to be a bigot from time to time in order to have confines on your art. You have to prefer, which immediately makes you a bigot. So for me it's been lack of identification with groups. I mean I have no religious affiliation, I have no national affiliation. I'm a Canadian living in America, but I don't feel any more like a Canadian or an American or -- you see what I mean?

(Music up: "California.")

JM: For me, it's been a very kind of subjective, I guess you'd say, journey. Subjective but hopefully universal. That was always my optimism that if I described my own changes through whatever the decade was throwing at us, that there were others like me. And it turns out that there were.

JL: Yeah, but even in those days, wouldn't you agree that the general hippie concept, if I can use that as a catch term, was, you know, we're supposed to love everybody, love the cops, love even the president. I mean we looked at them as being evil sometimes and in doing evil things, but we were supposedly bringing the message of love.

JM: I never really bought that.

JL: Really?

JM: Because I couldn't. I couldn't love everybody. It was very personal. Like either you were drawn to somebody, it was comfortable, or it was uncomfortable, you know. I couldn't find that universal kind of love. I couldn't buy some of the sloganism. I don't think I really identified with a lot of those slogans. That's what I was trying to explain, you know. I was not a zealous hippie in a certain way. There were things about it that were incomplete for me. It was not the answer.

JL: I see. Okay. So we'll just put down that Joni Mitchell totally rejects all of the 60s concepts that ever happened --

JM: (Laughs.)

JL: -- says it was all a big waste of time and just to sell designer jeans.

JM: It was never a waste of time. It was a highly emotional -- for the first time we were watching our soldiers, you know, while they were dying on the battlefield. I remember seeing, you know, like television in New York City and watching American soldiers die and thinking, 'my God, imagine if you were relatives of these people.'

(Music up: "Fiddle and the Drum.")

JM: No, no, it's not like I reject it. It's just that I only identified with it superficially in my costume in a certain way. I mean I was always questioning the heroes of that time period, the political heroes, they've shown themselves to be for the most part shallow opportunists, you know.

JL: The heroes of the 60s?

JM: Not so much -- not Jimi Hendrix, not so much -- but some of the political figures, you know, the political youth heroes, they turned out to be pretty small.

JL: Would the song, for example, "Woodstock" then, we should look at that more as a report as opposed to --

JM: That's how I felt. To me, Woodstock was like a modern miracle. I kept thinking to myself why are there all these miracles like the loaves and the fishes in the Bible. I mean, why are there no modern miracles of that nature? To me, Woodstock was very moving in that people shared and they showed the real spirit of -- they generally showed the spirit of love and generosity. That was the pinnacle of the hippie philosophy.

(Music up: "Woodstock.")

JL: When you moved back to Canada and tried to go back, follow your own advice, I think you said --

JM: Back to the roots.

JL: Yeah, back to the roots. Why didn't that work out for you?

JM: Well, for one thing there was an old squatter on the property that I purchased, and I thought he would be able to teach me wood lore and what to eat and what to smoke, you know. As it turns out, he sat in a dilapidated chair with a raincoat on when the roof was leaking, when it rained, drank beer and watched television and was complete- -- that was his life. He didn't know anything about the environment. He was lazy. He was an old logger. Most of the people in the community that had dropped out of the cities had brought city habits with them, and nobody really was living the kind of rural life that I had envisioned.

(Music up: "Chelsea Morning.")

JL: When you write a song and you say hey, okay, wait a minute, this is pretty personal and I'm going to put this out and millions of people are going to read the lyrics and listen to this, when you do that, you go through that catharsis and you put it out, is that more painful or is it more comforting afterwards?

JM: There's no choice in the matter anymore. You know, I think it's easier -- this is one advantage that I have as a woman because I'm allowed to, by nature, by gender, express my feelings more easily, although it's getting harder for women too, you know, because we've moved into men's world and people say 'please don't cry!' (laughs) so we won't be able to cry.

But I've watched the guys, you know, my peers, I've watched them get to that line that I'm waiting for, the truer line, come to that line and then bury it. And I've seen the beauty of that line and I've watched it get buried either by their peer group pressure on one another. They'll say, that's not a very good line, or even on occasion 'what are you trying to do, write Joni Mitchell songs?' (laughs), you know. They don't seem to have the luxury of the same -- it's not really -- in one way it's courageous and in one way it isn't courageous at all. It's absolutely necessary. You know, it's beyond any judgment as to courage or cowardliness. You know what I mean? It just seems to me it's the best line. It's the most pertinent, it's the most -- has the most vitality. And I realized once again as I have for almost any intimate line that I am not unique, you know, and that we're all in this thing together.

(Music up: "People's Parties.")

JM: I think you know your humor improves, it should improve, as you get older. That's probably one of the pluses like I'm becoming a comedienne, you know, like my spirit is definitely lightening up.

(Music up: "Twisted," "Both Sides, Now.")

JM: I hate to make more of an issue of it than it really is. I'll give you another example, Christmas caroling. We have this annual Christmas caroling around -- sometimes it would contain Graham and Carly Simon and James Taylor, you know. Every year it was a pretty star-studded thing, but we would come down to harmonic orthodoxies again, 'no, no, no, no, the descant went such and such and such and such.' So somebody would always be taking an instructive point. Now everybody wanted it to be so good and my attitude was much more free-school. I was saying even if it's out of tune, what does it matter? I mean if you take a pack of James Taylor, Carly Simon, and myself and Graham Nash and a bunch of people walk up to your door singing Christmas carols, do you really care if the harmony is perfect? You know? (Laughs.) I mean I thought just the spirit of the thing would carry it.

(Music up: "Both Sides, Now.")

JL: Like other artists who started poor and went on to achieve the material trappings of success, Joni Mitchell has taken her knocks from those whose career has not yet done so well.

JM: Wait until they make some money, they're going to turn into hypocrites real fast. What are they going to do with it? That's the Boho dance. The poor artist is always contemptuous of the rich artist, and there are a lot of good things to poke at. And it does corrupt some people. It depends on what you were motivated. If you were money motivated in the first place, when you get your money you're going to reach your goal in a certain way, you know. But if you're an artist, you know, like Picasso, he was fabulously wealthy and it didn't mess with his output at all. But when he first became wealthy, his peer group turned on him and attacked him. And he was very flamboyant at first and had black maids in ruffled aprons, drove big cars, and did a lot of flashy things, but that's an experience. Why not? You experience your money, you find out the pros and cons, you find out the tremendous -- well, I won't get into the prejudice against the rich, but I've been poor and I've been middle class and, you know, I've been very wealthy. I've experienced -- none of those -- you can be happy or unhappy in any financial situation.

(Music up: "Real Good for Free.")

JL: I'm Jim Ladd and we're back now with our Inner View of Joni Mitchell. For those of us who have loved Joni Mitchell from her very first album, we have seen her grow and develop over the years into one of music's most gifted poets and musicians. A voice that has consoled us, moved us, and often unnerved us with her uncompromising honesty, clarity, and vision of the world around her. With the release of the album "The Hissing of Summer Lawns," we were awakened to a new dimension in her music that was developing out of her never-ending enthusiasm for the joy of exploring new musical avenues. Her greatest challenge came with the album entitled "Mingus."

(Music up: Excerpt from "I's A Muggin'.")

JM: Charles wrote me -- the first project that he had in mind for me was condensing T. S. Elliot and playing guitar and singing -- anyway, we abandoned that project. Anyway, he wrote six melodies for me which he called Joni 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. They were a piano player playing melody and chords and a metronome going tick-tick-tick in the background. The first morning that I worked on them, I worked all night listening and listening and listening, and I woke up in the morning and my foot at the bottom of the bed was going tick-tick-tick like this under the covers. So I had to have another piano player play them over and get rid of that for me. And it was just a process of listening over and over to the specific tunes at that point. I never did work all six of them out. I ended up doing four of them.

(Music up: "God Must Be a Boogie Man.")

JM: Charles was dying. We didn't know how long he was going to hold on at that point. When I met him he was completely paralyzed except for his speech and that was deteriorating rapidly. So when I got a few songs together, I called him up one day and I said, "How are you?" and he said, "Oh, I'm dying."

(Excerpt from chatter on "Mingus.")

JM: I'd never heard him talk like that. Before he'd been very optimistic and we'd never discussed his death. We took it for granted that he was going to beat it. So when I heard him say that, I said, well, I'd better get into the studio and see how he likes the way I'm going to treat it.

(Music up: "A Chair in the Sky.")

JL: There just seems to be like a lack of parameters in jazz that a lot of the better rock and rollers seem to go to that --

JM: Forgive me for interrupting but there are parameters in jazz but it is wider open. The voicings are wider open, the chords, so you can have more choice of -- if you want to deviate from the melody, you have a greater choice because you're working against a broader structure. Like if you're playing against a pure major chord, there are only so many notes that -- you know, it's a pure chord. If you sing a note that's outside of that chord, it's going to sound awful. But if you're playing a polyphonic chord like a hybrid chord that's like two chords against each other that's that wide, you can sing just about any note on the scale and it's going to sound good. So there's a harmonic freedom. There's a rhythmic freedom. Rock and roll when your downbeat comes down, you're pretty much -- there's some liberty to phrase inbetween, you know, four beats to the bar, but mostly your accents are coming on your four downbeats, right?, in the bar. In jazz you could come in on the three end and sing and cluster it up right before you come in. So the time is freer and the harmony is freer and -- but you're still working within the context of the structure.

(Music up: "Coyote.")

JL: That's interesting. Do you do that often?

JM: What, take my shoes off?

JL: And then put them immediately back on?

JM: Well, I took them off and then --

JL: I thought maybe I said something wrong.

JM: They don't breathe very well (laughs). I thought I'd spare you guys.

JL: Joni, this is a serious question.

JM: Uh-oh.

JL: I mean I've been wanting to ask you this for years. The song "Rainy Night House."

JM: Who is it about, right?

JL:

Yeah. JM: You want to get down into the National Enquirer aspect of my life.

JL: No, actually I want to know if you ever call radio stations late at night and you like the hot line numbers actually. No, was that about a specific person really?

JM: It's not about any DJ.

JL: It's not?

JM: Huh-uh.

JL: Okay. But it says in there about the hero of the FM, was that just made up? You made that up?

JM: Think of all the records that you play (laughs).

JL: Oh, so it was about the artists that are being played?

JM: Oh, yeah. I'm from that camp, remember?

JL: Well, you can see what nepotism we have going on.

JM: I guess I shouldn't have blown that myth.

JL: You're going to break hearts all across America. There are guys that were positive -- not me, of course -- that this song was written about a late night disc jockey.

JM: That's known as media madness.

JL: I see. I see.

(Music up: "Rainy Night House.")

JL: Joni Mitchell is not known as a person who could even be remotely accused of seeking publicity. I'll remind you that it took Inner View six years to get her to do this show. She has, however, on rare occasion given print interviews to certain publications often as not to her deep regret later. One writer who she does feel she got a fair shake from, however, is a guy by the name of Cameron Crowe.

JL: Now I've got to ask you this just because I happen to like the guy. What do you think of Cameron Crowe?

JM: Cameron is unusual like among journalists, certainly unusual on the Rolling Stone staff which, you know, for me because I'm kind of their favorite person to persecute over the years over there.

JL: Here it comes. Go ahead.

JM: No, no, I'm not going to do any lament here or anything. I promise you. But Cameron did a fair shake. In other words, he didn't edit internally within the paragraphs too much. He allowed statements to complete themselves so they didn't come out too flippant. He asked intelligent questions. He's a sweetie pie. I mean I like him. The fact that artists like him I guess gives him some peer group pressure I guess because among writers they don't take too much to writers who suck up to artists. That's the way they seem to think if the writers like him he must be weak in some way. That's not true where Cameron is concerned. He just gives artists a fair shake which is kind of unusual.

Journalists are always out for blood. In the course of long raps, anybody is going to say some really insipid things, some stupid things, some half-baked things, have -- are going to be caught out on some kind of a line, and it's been my experience with journalists is they'll take the least interesting aspects of what went down and make an article. Even Time Magazine. It's unbelievable what they did. I mean from material that they had to work with and what they chose to print, they chose the most sensational, and Cameron is really good at what he does.

You know, like for the most part the artist and the interviewer, it's like cats and dogs. They come at each other with kind of a mutual contempt, generally speaking.

JL: Okay.

JM: They're like on two different sides of the fence, and that's the way you're used to working. Whereas I always thought why should it be like that? I mean you're actually pulling together. You need each other. It's a symbiotic relationship.

(Music up: "Lesson in Survival.")

JL: Do you have a lot of women friends?

JM: I have a few good ones. I have more women friends as I get older.

JL: Really?

JM: As my relationship with my mother, you know, like gets some of the kinks out of that. I take responsibility for myself, you know.

JL: I've heard this from a lot of women that I've been close to, just talking about friends but people that I can really sit down and discuss things with and almost verbatim I mean it's almost --

JM: Nobody makes any kind of long-lasting relationships out here so there's this kind of transient quality and it puts women in a very competitive position.

(Music up: "Woman of Heart and Mind.")

JL: What has surprised you the most about what has happened to music since you got into it?

JM: Nothing is that surprising really.

JL: Are you that jaded, Joni, really?

JM: No, it's not -- it's not jaded. I mean I heard Pine Top play once. I mean he's been around for years, and it was a pleasant surprise. I mean it thrilled me. It's not like I don't get thrilled musically. I do. But I can never tell where it's going to come from. Trends are fairly predictable. All that very vertical music -- Crosby used to call that ant music, you remember. It was bubbling under, back 15 years ago but it wasn't a happening sound. We all used to kind of laugh about it because it was a very neurotic rhythm. Now it's come to the forefront, and some like Devo, it's great when it's done well. So there's always forerunners of a certain sound. In that way I don't find anything too surprising when one wave overtakes it.

I had an optimism that rock was going take its new infusion from the jazz world. I was hoping -- you can tell from my music that that was my optimism that the audiences would grow up in a certain way in order to hear more sophisticated music, that American art would mature. It's a shame that such great music is only able to be perceived by such a small amount of people. Here we are in a country that claims better educations and an increasing number of educated, therefore supposedly intelligent people. It doesn't work that way. You can't seem to educate people to understand the beauty of those lines. I always hoped that before America went under that there would be a golden age for the arts where those people who really were the great masters in every bracket of music would be the most renowned. You know, jazzers never expect to be famous really. They expect only to reach a pinnacle within a context, and perhaps it's just as well because affluence and fame and all those things do undermine a lot of talents.

(Music up: "Furry Sings the Blues.")

JL: Okay, the last question I'm going to ask you just very simply is are you happy nowadays? Are you fulfilled? Do you feel good?

JM: I'm not fulfilled. I'd hate to be fulfilled. I mean that would mean -- I haven't even hit my stride yet, thank God. Happy? I'm happy as much in the day as I'm perplexed or any of the other moods that, you know, aren't happiness.

JL: You haven't found some particular religious path --

JM: Oh, my God, no.

JL: No?

JM: That's giving up as far as I'm concerned.

JL: Do you think so really?

JM: Yeah, I think so. They're all very simplistic in a certain way. I mean the beauty of some of them is their simplicity, but I haven't been able to find any one thing that really describes my spirituality.

(Music up: "Black Crow.")

JL: Well, on that note we'll just say good night. I'm really glad that you came in. I'm glad after all this time we finally got to do this.

JM: Thanks.

JL: Thank you, lady. Anything else you want to say before we shut this off?

JM: I'm speechless. (Laughs.)

JL: I'm glad it came now.

JL: Thank you, Joni.

 

Copyright protected material on this website is used in accordance with 'Fair Use', for the purpose
of study, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s).

Notice and Procedure for Making Claims of Copyright Infringement.


Comments on this article


You can comment using your Facebook profile, or by registering and logging in through this website. Registered comments are indexed and are a permanent part of the website - Facebook comments are not indexed, and may eventually disappear.

» Register and log in to be the first to add a permanent comment.