Singer 'not bitter' after threatening to quit recording. Legend receives Canadian honour at AGO ceremony
Joni Mitchell pauses for a moment, considers the question, and then delivers some welcome news: No, she's not quitting the music business. At least, not yet.
"I'm not raffled, I'm not sour and I'm not bitter," she said last night with a laugh, taking a brief pause from the crush of admirers vying for her attention at the Art Gallery of Ontario. "All the bosses in that industry have been so nice since I knocked it, everything's been smoothed over. So let's get on with it."
Mitchell, in town to receive the Wm. Harold Moon Award from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada for her contributions to bringing international attention to Canadian music, will likely have given welcome relief to the legions of fans she's built up over three-plus decades as a singer-songwriter.
Recently, Mitchell, disgusted at the music industry's insatiable hunger for Britneys and Shakiras, said Travelogue, her new double CD that will be released today, would be her last.
"What would I do? Get hair extensions and a choreographer?" she said in the December issue of W magazine. "It's not my world."
But even if she's changed her mind, she certainly hasn't changed her position. "I don't want songs to be disposable," she said last night. "Instead of being swayed to demographic and marketing procedures, it has to mean something. Music is too calculated now. It's good for aerobics, but it isn't moving."
Mitchell, wearing a black Issey Miyake dress bought on the weekend at Hold Renfrew ("It's her favourite," said Mitchell's daughter, Toronto-based Kilauren Gibb; "they just don't seem to have it in L.A.," where Mitchell lives), graciously received fellow attendees seeking photos with her, and autographs.
Also receiving awards last night were Nelly Furtado, rock group Nickelback and hip-hop artist Kardinal Offishal.
Smoking contentedly in the AGO's Agora restaurant, Mitchell lamented the turn the business has taken — and how far that turn has taken it away from art that matters. "We need a counter-force. We can't all be bitches and ho's," she said, referring to the hip-hop boom that has consumed commercial radio. "The artist's job is to sit on the sidelines. We're supposed to be outcasts. An artist is not a politician. We have to be non-partisan, skeptical."
A sampling of Mitchell's philosophy can be found on Travelogue, an album that assembles many of Mitchell's best-known songs but in a radically reworked form, using a 70-piece orchestra, a choir, and a corps of accomplished jazz players. It can be seen as a look back, but it's also a look forward for new challenges, which Mitchell is committed to pursuing.
"I meet young artists all the time, and I tell them they have to do what they feel," she said. "Synthesize what you really like. Don't cop out."
To be clear, Mitchell's relenting from her absolute position is not that. She's made her statement, and is ready to move on.
"I threatened to quit because I was pissed off, and with good reason," she said. "I don't think I can quit, but in order to write again, there's going to have to be a real shift in me. Where that will come from, I don't know."