This work-in-progress lists all currently known appearances, drawn from a variety of sources.
Researched, Compiled, and Maintained by Simon Montgomery, © 2001-2020.
Special thanks to Joel Bernstein for his contributions and assistance.
Latest Update: August 3, 2020
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Joni's appearance on Letterman is more reserved and perhaps less satisfying than her Leno appearance a few months earlier. She looks less glam, less confident, more "down to earth" in brown wool instead of black velvet. She barely smiles as she walks to the microphone, and you almost wonder if she's miffed about something. She sings "Sex Kills" once again, and once again her guitar is out of tune. This rendition is more mournful, more introspective than on Leno. She shuts her eyes as if absorbed in her own message of doom. There's no special set, and no time for chat after the song, just a quick hello from Letterman. She seems nervous as he hugs her. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I feel like I know you," he says. Joni replies with wary surprise, "You're being very sweet tonight!"
Joni on Late-nite, By David Rind
During the first part of 1995, in an apparent effort to broaden her appeal and boost sales for Turbulent Indigo, Joni appeared on both the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno (2/3) and on the "David Letterman" show (4/24). It was Joni's first appearance on nationwide television in 25 years, and was such a marked departure for her that Jay Leno was a little unsure why it was happening. In addition to what was likely a push from her once-and-again new record company, it was a way for her to reach a sizable audience without the strain of large tours in big arenas.
While it was a pleasure to see her, as far as fulfilling her purpose was concerned, she shouldn't have wasted her time. Recently, Phil Gallo in Variety wrote, "Certainly the most eloquent responses to the barrage of questions backstage at the Grammy Awards came from Joni Mitchell...". With such a wonderful conversationalist, a raconteur par excellence, and an insightful guest as Joni can be, one would have thought the hosts would have taken the opportunity to talk to her. Each of these shows runs one hour; total amount of time spent talking to Joni: 2 minutes, 35 seconds. Add in another 4 minutes per show for her one song, and Joni, appearing for the first time in 25 years, spent about 10 minutes total on both programs. She was the last guest in both cases, and on the Letterman show she barely had time to sit down before the show ended. So much for the lure of reaching a mass audience.
Actually, it probably wouldn't have mattered how much time she had. The portion of the audience who tuned in specifically to see her are likely to be enthusiastic supporters already, while the regular audience for these shows is undoubtedly brain dead, if the other slots which were shown are any indication of the normal fare. It was, frankly, excruciating to sit through the unfunny, self-aggrandizing antics of the hosts, and the inane patter of the preceding guests (which along with commercials took up the other 92% of the two shows). Talk about the ridiculous to the sublime - Joni was so far out of place in this low brow milieu that the hosts probably knew what they were doing not talking to her - the audience wouldn't have understood anything she said. Why anybody thought this would provide her with a larger appreciative clientele implies that some of those comatose audience members also work for record companies.
As far as her actual appearances were concerned, on both shows she sang "Sex Kills", and looked ten years younger (one thing these shows do have are great make-up people, who are skilled at hiding all aging lines). The version for "The Tonight Show" was the better of the two - she was more energized, and her voice was stronger. On the Letterman show she was more thoughtful, and the song less forceful; having to wait backstage through the previous 55 minutes undoubtedly affected her ability and desire to act coherently.
With the little time she got to talk to Jay Leno, who characterized himself as a big fan from his days in Boston during the '60s, she discussed singing to Prince in Minnesota when he was "15 and impressionable, with the eyes and cocked head of a puffin bird". It wasn't clear David Letterman really knew who she was; she appeared a bit apprehensive that he would be critical, but in the 15 seconds following her song there wasn't time.
In an interview elsewhere, Joni expressed the opinion that she has an intense intimacy with her fans, and there just aren't that many people who want that sort of musical relationship. The powers that be should recognize this, and while it's great for us to see her, they should not schedule her in such inappropriate venues as these.
Tonight Show: Sex Kills
David Letterman: Sex Kills