Pleasant Distractions or Life Savers? The impact and appeal of Joni Mitchell’s songs
This paper was presented by the author at:
COURT & SPARK: AN INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM ON JONI MITCHELL
University of Lincoln 3 July 2015
Acknowledgement: Design of the research questionnaire and the analysis and interpretation of data used for this paper were undertaken with the assistance of my brother, Dr Michael Tedder, University of Exeter.
When talking about her song writing, Joni Mitchell said, ‘I get letters from people that give me some idea of how the songs go into their life. The interesting ones are life-changing. Malka Marom, having heard “I Had A King,” went home that night and left her husband.’ However, Mitchell added that most of the time her music is ‘a pleasant distraction.’ Another for whom hearing Joni Mitchell’s songs was life-changing is Amy Wadge who sings ‘I played Joni till my fingers bled’ in her number, ‘These Are The Songs (that saved my life).’ Amy co-wrote the platinum selling ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with Ed Sheeran who, at the Glastonbury Music Festival of 2014, was given the opportunity to choose any artist living or dead to top the bill of his ideal music ‘Fantasy Festival’; he chose Joni Mitchell. It is evidence of the continuing power of Joni Mitchell’s work that these singers are from different and younger generations; testimonies to the enduring appeal of her work. For those, including young contemporary song writers at the top of their game, who experience Joni Mitchell's music as more than a ‘pleasant distraction,’ what are the qualities within the songs that have so deeply affected them? Are there particular songs of Joni's that have changed lives, possibly even been life savers? Using personal narratives from musicians and members of the Joni Mitchell Discussion List (JMDL) this paper considers Joni Mitchell's songs amongst her most knowledgeable and dedicated aficionados. From a humanistic perspective, it establishes similarities and differences of the emotional impact of Joni Mitchell's songs, locating them as a tool people use to better understand their lives.
‘I played Joni
till my fingers bled’ sang Amy Wadge in ‘These Are The Songs (that saved my
life).’ Amy co-wrote the platinum selling ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with Ed Sheeran
who, at the Glastonbury Music Festival of 2014, was given the opportunity to
choose any artist living or dead to top the bill of his ideal music ‘Fantasy
Festival’; he chose Joni Mitchell. It is evidence of the continuing power of
Joni Mitchell’s work that these singers are from significantly younger generations,
yet testify to the enduring appeal of her work. But is it true that songs can
be life savers? Or, as Joni said herself, are for most people her songs merely
a ‘pleasant distraction’?
Joni’s music has
been an important part of my life since my brother first heard her music in
1968, thought I might like it and bought me the first album, ‘Song to a
Seagull.’ The phrase ‘soundtrack to my life’ is clichéd but for me has a degree
of truth: I could write a book about my personal experiences of her music but,
for the purposes of this paper, I intend to relate Joni’s work to my
professional role as a counsellor.
research study was undertaken early in 2015 to inquire into the significance of
Joni’s songs in people’s lives. Are they regarded primarily as entertainment or
is there evidence that the songs might enable people to achieve a better
understanding of their lives? Following discussion of some themes that emerged
from the study, we present two case studies constructed from participants’
stories. There is a brief account of the use of one of Joni’s songs in my
counselling practice before I venture an answer to the question.
The study was undertaken amongst the knowledgeable fan base who
comprise the Joni Mitchell Discussion List (JMDL), a daily email exchange which
considers all matter connected to the life and work of Joni Mitchell. It has
over 800 subscribers and this year celebrates its nineteenth year of existence.
Founded by Les Irvin, the Joni List started in 1996 and I joined in 1998. The
range of topics discussed is extensive, from the lyrical meanings people
ascribe to Joni’s songs through harmonic and chord progressions, Joni’s life
history, her place in queer history, cross-dressing as ‘Art Nouveau’ and the
perennial question, what did she mean by ‘Your notches, liberation, doll’ in
the song ‘Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow.’ Many people on the list are first class
musicians and have made substantial contributions to maintaining Joni’s music
as a vibrant force. Musician Dave Blackburn, as well as performing nine of
Joni’s albums live with his band and partner, Robin Adler, recently transcribed
‘Paprika Plains’ in its entirety and made it available for free on the Joni
Mitchell web site. Singer Laurie Antonioli recently took part in the San
Francisco Jazz Tribute to Joni and produced a fine album of her own. Bob Muller
provides a weekly download of covers of Joni’s songs. Over the years, Joni List
members have worked out her tunings, held festivals, JoniFests, all over the
world. The performances and get-togethers are wonderful offshoots of JMDL and
it’s fair to call JMDL a vibrant community.
We adopted an
interpretive approach to the research. A short questionnaire was devised inviting
statements about the respondent’s views of the short and long term effects of
Joni Mitchell’s songs. The questionnaire was emailed to twelve members of the JMDL
and ten replied. The questionnaire was also used as basis for a personal
interview with Amy Wadge.
The questions were:
- Please name a
song of Joni's that has particularly affected you. If it feels important
to name more than one song, please feel able to do so.
- Please tell me
something about the circumstances in which you first heard the song(s),
(perhaps how old you were, where you were, any significant relationships
at the time) or anything else you feel important.
- How did the
song(s) affect you and what was your response?
- What has been
the long term effect of the experience of the song(s)?
A fifth question
was asked inviting the participants to add anything further.
were also invited to locate themselves in a number of standard classifications:
gender, age, country of residence, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and
social class. No statistical significance was planned in the study as it was
intended to be an exploratory exercise, a possible pilot for a more substantial
study, but we thought it important to collect this contextual information.
analytical approach, the research draws on two academic fields: from humanistic
counselling and from biographical research.
For the purposes
of this paper, an optimistic, humanistic belief has been adopted, that people
innately move towards self-actualisation and growth (Rogers 1967). Humanistic
approaches to counselling and psychotherapy prioritise the ways in which
individuals perceive themselves consciously, value the choices of clients and
tend to be phenomenological (Spinelli 1989).
In the field of
biographical research, Goodson et al (2010) explored ways in which adults may
or may not learn from their life experiences through the construction of
stories about their lives. They drew attention to ways in which stories have
differing narrative quality
and differing efficacy,
that may reveal how people learn ‘in’ and ‘through’ their lives. Biesta and
Tedder (2007) [see also Tedder and Biesta, 2009]
connect biographical learning with narrative theory, noting that the
differences between the stories people tell ‘correlate with ways in which
people learn from their lives and with ways in which such learning bears
significance for how they conduct their lives’ (p. 79).
They make a distinction between learning from the process of narrating a story
about life and a process of learning from having a story that can be reflected
on and shared with others.
Our approach to
the research was influenced by aspects of grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss,
1967; Strauss and Corbin, 1998) in that we wanted to identify and understand the
significant constructs of our respondents that they defined in the stories they
shared about their lives. We were also sensitive to the discourse that they
employed in responding to questions: the study was prompted in part by the
thought that music is a field of popular culture, a discourse of images,
metaphors and ideas, with which people frequently understand and explain their
lives through storying. We wanted to know whether the songs of Joni Mitchell
function in this way. However, we would not at this stage claim rigour in using
grounded theory or discourse analysis for the understanding of our data.
Findings and Responses
Our participants emerged as residents of North America and Europe; they were aged in
the main over 50 so most would have been teenagers in the 1960s and young
adults in the 1970s.
while some discovered Joni’s music in their teenage years, there were others who
said her music did not become significant for them until they were in their 30s
or 40s. Our participants include both gay and straight people and several
references to university suggested that most were well-educated.
The questions were
intended to be focussed and structured, but the respondents came at the questionnaire
in a variety of ways. Some were very specific with their responses, giving brief
or extended answers to different questions, whilst others responded in an
alternative structure, using our questions as a springboard for reflection on
life experiences and the relationship of Joni’s songs to them. In one case, an
extended reflection used song phrases as sub-headings. In two responses, the
length and depth of the comments suggested a deep desire or need to communicate
about themselves and their lives and our questionnaire had provided an
opportunity to disclose the importance of Joni Mitchell’s songs to their recall
and understanding of certain key events.
The song that
was most frequently mentioned in response to the first question was 'Hejira.’ Hejira
is transliteration of the Arabic word hijra
, which means
‘journey’, often referring to the migration of the Islamic prophet Muhammad
companions from Mecca
in 622. Within the song,
Mitchell herself notes that she ‘sees something of myself in everyone’ and it
is perhaps the projections of both Joni and the listener that have led to this
song being cited as significant for so many. Joni writes of a journey
which starts and ends with
I’m travelling in some
vehicle, I’m sitting in some café
A defector from the petty wars
At the beginning, Joni is a
defector from petty wars that shell shock love away; but by the end she is a
defector from petty wars only until ‘Love sucks (her) back that way.’ Between
the beginning and the end, there are reflections on the
existential ‘givens’ of Freedom and Responsibility, of Death, Isolation
and Meaninglessness. All are scrutinized. Finding one’s relationship to the
world and the existential has pervaded Joni’s work. Why are we here? What are
we doing? How are we relating to the planet, to ourselves and to others?
Our data suggest such questions
resonate with many listeners. Some of the comments made about
that song were:
I felt as though the song, which also references death ‘the granite
markers, tributes to finality, to eternity’ became a metaphor for the entire
life experience, not just a mere slice of it.
became more meaningful with time, to the point where they come to me from time
to time, as do the lyrics of many of Mitchell’s other songs, to bring
additional meaning to situations I encounter throughout life.
A song of
wisdom, experience and journey.
attention to the way that, for many of our participants, the songs are
important ways with which they construct meaning in their lives.
our questionnaire data identified several significant themes though it was also
noticeable what our respondents did not say as well as what they did. Firstly,
it was striking that relatively little was said about Joni Mitchell’s instrumental
music: one respondent noted her ‘unusual chordal structures’ and another
characterised her music as ‘dreamy and trancelike.’ A professional musician
described Joni’s music as ‘the most complete musical experience that I’ve ever
had’ and a fellow songwriter commented on Joni’s innovative use of guitar and
voice. Yet no one used terms like ‘melody’ or ‘tune’ in their accounts of the impact
of the songs, no one wrote about ‘rhythm’ or ‘dance’, and no one wrote about
the quality of instrumental playing.
was interesting that only one of our participants had much to say about Joni’s
appearance. She thought that Joni ‘made being a smart girl look meaningful and
pretty and fun, a little glamorous’ and recalled:
As a teenage girl with blonde
hair, I idolized those that looked like me that seemed to offer a role model… I
did not think [Joni] was all that beautiful...I thought she was very
interesting and a lot older than me; very strong featured and didn't smile; a
little odd perhaps. I did not see her as some object to be viewed, but a strong
voice to listen to.
participant, Mitchell was potentially a role model but no one else spoke of
A simple word
count of the transcribed data reveals that the word ‘song’ was frequently used
in the discourse; this was unsurprising given that our questions specifically
asked about their short and long term significance. However, only two respondents
used the word ‘singer’ in their comments and one of those respondents was outlining
her own musical career. While the songs, Joni’s work, are important, the
significance of the singer remains more elusive.
participants did write about are the texts of the songs: one praised the
literary qualities and another Joni’s ability to conjure beautiful images. They
write noticeably about the emotions they associate with the songs: one wrote
about ‘uncontrollable weeping’ at breaking up with a girlfriend but also of
being ‘inspired to go deep into my own psyche.’ Another remembered the ‘waves
of sadness and confusion my adolescent mind was experiencing’ at the end of a
relationship. A third wrote of the ‘anger’ associated with the death of his
partner, yet the capacity of one of Joni’s songs to help him find his way
through the stages of grief.
As was noted
earlier, the songs are important ways with which listeners construct meaning in
their lives. In other words, they have a significant learning function, they
provide tools with which people make judgements about their lives, particularly
in relation to learning about emotions and relationships:
It’s made me smarter, more sensitive, more understanding to the
myriad of situations that people are in. Understanding that life is an
ever-evolving combination of hope and hopelessness.
Mitchell… held a hallowed place for me for ‘emotional bloodletting’ as she
seems to have done for many others.
jonimusic was some kind of litmus test - we believed that we could
not have a relationship with someone who did not ‘get’ Joni…. if you could not
understand and appreciate that, you were not on a level with us to make a
Almost all the
respondents commented about their awareness of the artistry of being a song
writer. For some this was linked with how they saw the relationship they had
with the artist:
The long term
effect of the song I suppose was establishing a powerful connection to the
writer of it, wanting to learn about the art and craft of songwriting, record
making, and reaching people …
she has been
my spiritual guide since then. I don’t want to make her seem something that she
is not, since she is above all very human and not the goddess some might want
her to be, but I consider myself so lucky to have ‘met’ her along the way, even
though I’ve never met her in person.
I had come to trust Joni Mitchell. She was and is obviously a true
artist, more interested in growing than becoming a hit machine. … She is one
of a kind and I feel fortunate to be living at the same time she is on this
earth and I am grateful for every record that I have had the pleasure to hear
as they were released over the past 40 years.
listed a series of bullet points summarising what Joni Mitchell means to her. She
includes the statements: ‘The power of the spoken/sung word and emotional
introspection made public. The thrill of truth and discovery intellectually on
display, as well as emotionally.’ For this participant, Joni ‘Helped me get
through the hard times, as well as the good.’
Two Case Studies
In order to
undertake the task of uncovering further the emotional impact of Joni’s songs,
we have chosen to focus here on two members from the JMDL who most clearly
shared stories about events in their lives and the impact of Joni’s songs when
they replied to our questionnaire. Pseudonyms are used to protect the identity
of these respondents. Matt is a sixty year old gay man living in the USA and
Marie a sixty four year old woman, also American, who, in response to the box
marked ‘sexuality,’ responded ‘A Good Thing.’ Both narrated substantial
stories of loss: Matt linked Joni’s songs with his experiences of the illness
and death of a partner while Marie linked them with a search for meaning after the
death of her parents.
about her life in a highly creative format, ignoring the structure of the
questionnaire but embarking instead on a piece of creative biographical
writing. She was reflexive as a respondent, self-aware in writing bracketed
asides about her writing and about influences on the comments she makes:
I was coming of age in the 60's as a teenager and the 70's as a
young adult, at a time when the youth culture and the issues of the 60's were
foremost in my gaze. (Damn, JM...phrases pop up all the time of hers. Can't
help it...her songs are like tattoos. Damn it, there I go again.) It's fun to
quote her turn of phrases when I'm talking, most people don't get that I'm
quoting, they just think I'm brilliant. So Joni, hats off to you, my friend.
a historical context for her exploration of popular music by reference to the
seminal Beatles album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that was
released in 1967:
my best friend and I would listen to every chord, every note, every
nuance to wrestle meaning from a piece of music that really spoke to us. So
really, it was the Beatles that started me on my way to listen to contemporary
music as albums with themes.
Participant 6 mentioned earlier who was impressed by Joni’s appearance and she
seems to view Joni’s early appearance as a long-haired folk singer as an image
I liked the strong women I saw and heard. I wanted to be like them.
If I got the chance to ask Joni a question, I suppose I'd ask her when and why
she started wearing her hair in that iconic look. And my question is a serious
one. … I thought she was remarkable; her chords, her voice, her words cut like
a knife, a beautiful knife. … She had a power over the audience and they really
were listening to her. That seemed important.
Using the first
line from the Joni song ‘River,’ Marie writes a subheading ‘It’s coming on Christmas’
and narrates the sudden death of her parents:
The fun of leaving home to major in art at the university in the big
city was suddenly and horribly interrupted when my parents died in a Christmas
car crash on the way to do some shopping in that same city. The year was 1971,
I was only 19 and immediately ‘orphaned’. The world turned upside down after
that. Grief was a constant visitor. It was a lot to handle.
Her response to
the tragedy is to undertake a tour of Europe that she recalls as a quest to
find meaning in the world. She begins with a search for meaning through art but
learns that she shares the quest with others:
My tourist plan was to seek out a lot of the landmarks of my Art History
classes; the paintings, the cathedrals, the cobblestone streets....anything
meaningful I could fill myself up with. I found I was not alone. I met many,
many people that summer, all doing the same thing. I felt like I belonged.
A key moment
becomes associated with a Joni Mitchell album:
Someone asked me what I was doing on my sojourn and I just stated
that my parents had recently passed and decided to take off and see Europe and
deal with my grief ( I had never said those words to a stranger ) and I just
broke down crying. That same day, someone at the front desk had an album
playing beautiful, haunting music with a lot of words. It was Joni Mitchell
singing her Songs to a Seagull album.
She finds that
similar life resonances are established with other albums: the ‘Blue’ album linking
with her European adventure while the songs on ‘Hejira’ resonate with a
transition when she leaves an established home and takes to the roads in a
illustrates the capacity of Joni Mitchell’s songs to resonate with important
life events and become associated with strong emotions. They appear to function
as tools with which a new understanding of life experience is achieved. The
song titles are used as icons for key events in her life story.
is unusually descriptive, frank and open in style. At times he evokes images
that might have come from the pen of Joni Mitchell herself; in writing about his weekend behaviour during the ‘aftermath’ of his partner’s illness and
death, he says:
weekend nights drinking … bourbon and Coke and watching VHS tapes of
old movies. The caffeine and sugar allowed me to stay conscious longer while I
got more intoxicated.
two songs to relate to his experiences. One song was 'Facelift' from ‘Taming
the Tiger’ (1998) and the other was Joni's lament on the album ‘Turbulent
Indigo’ (1994) based on the story of Job, 'The Sire of Sorrow'.
In response to
one question, Matt writes about his earlier life, recalling the challenges of
growing up as a gay man in a small town in the Midwest.
I was not prepared for the emotional resonance that I would find in
Joni Mitchell’s words. They spoke so directly to my confusion about my sexual
identity and my struggle to come out of the closet.
He quotes lines
from Joni’s songs that articulate for him experiences of humiliation and
yearning. He recalls:
The desperate longing to find real love and having no real idea of
what that meant
how, in February 1993, he had lost his beloved partner of nine years to AIDS:
‘The Sire of Sorrow’ described how I felt after that gut-wrenching
loss and I found many lines that seemed to speak directly to me about that and
more specifically that I associated with the devasting effects of AIDS.
Matt describes the night sweats his partner had endured, referencing specifically these phrases from Joni’s song: ‘Already
on a bed of sighs and screams’, ‘was it the sins of my youth’, ‘my loves are
dead or dying or they don’t come near.' He says:
I had begun to feel that some ‘tireless watcher’ was making
‘everything I dread and everything I fear come true’.
I was moved by
receiving, reading and understanding Matt’s powerful testament and thought it required
further exploration. It seemed as though he was trying to come to terms with
some dreadful events. I wondered if Matt was asking himself the question ‘was
it the sins of my youth?’ that somehow related to those dreadful events? Homophobia
was prevalent at that time and certainly the media reported fundamentalists who
viewed AIDS as a punishment of gay men from God. Matt replied:
When Ted and I were first diagnosed with HIV we both agreed that we
must have been infected with the virus before we met one another. There
was to be no assigning of blame. I had come to the conclusion some time
before that sex itself has nothing to do with morality. …. The
thought of people who think AIDS is a judgment visited on gay men by a
righteous God as punishment for our sinful ways sickens me. I don’t like
to think there are other humans who feel that way about me even I know there
are. But I never, never bought into that mindset.
From this it
would seem that, whilst acknowledging the presence of homophobia at the time,
he has maintained the sense of his right to be himself and never, as he puts
it, ‘bought into that mind set.’ I also asked Matt if he thought that these
songs of Joni’s were healing, and the answer seems to be in some ways yes and
in others, no.
beautifully crafted song ‘Facelift’ after such an intense relationship to ‘The
Sire of Sorrow’ seems to come as a relief to Matt:
‘Facelift’ came along nearly two years after Ted’s death. I had
come to the conclusion that I would never experience the love that Ted and I
had for each other again and was beginning to resign myself to living the rest
of my life alone. Although this song deals in large part with Joni Mitchell’s
relationship with her mother and her mother’s attitude toward out of wedlock
sexual relationships, I heard a different message coming through to me. Why
should I deny myself the happiness and pleasure of sharing myself and my life
with another human being who loved me and whom I loved? In a way, the song
gave me permission to love again. Later in the
fall of 1995, I met Thomas.
about the significance and the emotional effect of both songs:
I suppose, in a way, these two songs helped me get through
the two final stages of grief. Job’s anger brought out my anger at what seemed
to me to be the senseless death of a beautiful man whom I loved with my whole
heart and soul. Joni’s wise words to her mother helped me free myself from my
grief, accept the loss and enabled me to move past it. I discovered that
happiness is indeed the best facelift.
Like Marie, Matt’s
account illustrates the themes of Joni Mitchell’s songs resonating with
important life events and becoming associated with powerful emotions. Matt’s
data shows him using lines and phrases from the songs to articulate his learning
about relationships and life experiences.
Working with survivors of abuse
survivors of abuse from religious institutions in Ireland, I have referred to
Joni’s song, ‘The Magdalene Laundries.’ Most of my clients were taking part in
legal proceedings for redress from the Catholic Church. Their stories were
harrowing in the extreme and, at times, nothing I could find seemed able to
capture sufficiently the feelings that the survivors were trying to convey.
Joni’s song describes
a place where ‘fallen’ women were locked away, their human rights removed, they
were treated as slave labour, imprisoned, often beaten and had their babies
taken away at birth by the nuns in charge. Several films have depicted the
regimes the Laundries operated. Joni’s song is a description of an ‘unmarried
girl’ who was ‘branded as a Jezebel’ and taken to the Laundries for ‘the way
men looked at me.’ As a beautiful young woman in the 1960s who herself had
fallen pregnant without being married and had her child adopted, Joni had
walked a similar path and this fact contributes to the song feeling completely
authentic. This authenticity undoubtedly conveyed itself to those who survived
the abuse they endured at the Laundries and other religious institutions.
During the years
I worked with survivors, I played the song on three occasions. Each time, the
phrase ‘lame bulbs’ was commented upon by the survivors, along with the
heartfelt cry that follows the phrase. Joni sings:
One day I'm going to die here too
And they'll plant me in the dirt
Like some lame bulb
That never blooms come any spring
Not any spring
At the end of
the song, I would try to mirror closely the person in front of me by holding
kindly eye contact, following their posture and movements as we breathed in and
out together. In person- centred counselling, such mirroring is intended to
enable the client to experience a listener as empathically alongside and with
them. Our first and most profound experiences of mirroring are usually as a
baby and, if we are fortunate to receive good enough parenting, it is usually
naturally given by those who care and love us. As adults, we can experience
mirroring dissolving our feeling of being alone. There can be a strong sense of
relief or release within that contact and it was this quality of connection I
was trying to achieve during these long moments, when a client would quietly
say ‘Lame bulb……. that’s me.’
The Irish survivors
of abuse in religious institutions who were often neglected as children may never
have experienced someone attempting to understand or empathise with them. The
experience can be overwhelming. I was deeply moved to be present in the moments
when Joni sang the ‘Magdalene Laundries’ to those who had endured extreme
suffering and torture. My own words as, here and now, I try to describe my
experience with the survivors strike me as completely inept.
perspective of my professional role, I initiated an enquiry into the qualities
and significance in people’s lives of the songs of an elusive and charismatic
artist. The study has led to some conclusions in two areas: one concerning the
artist and her work (the songs she composed, arranged and recorded over four decades);
the second concerning the power of those songs in the lives of others.
the artist, our respondents did not particularly highlight her musical
achievements. Joni’s instrumental playing, innovative tunings, arrangements,
production skills and voice were not singled out. However, the literary
qualities and images of her music which combine into ‘trance like’ songs is regarded
as significant. Alongside this, several respondents mentioned their ‘trust’ of
Joni’s work. Joni emerges as a character less concerned with making hits but
with making music that is true for her and it is this perception of Joni as an
artist of integrity which seems to assist the way her music reaches the
respondents. The research also suggests that Joni fulfils a cultural need for
people to have a guide or advocate to help deal with existential challenges.
This idea of existential guide may well be a role Joni is entitled to adopt
given her personal exploration of her inner depths, but is a position she would
most likely resist. A fellow singer-songwriter said that ‘For every minute of
their lives someone’s got a Joni Mitchell song’ and it is Joni’s ability to
write songs with relevance to everyday experience that gives us a further clue
to their potency.
In responding to
questions about the impact of her songs, the stories shared were predominantly
accounts of Joni’s songs assisting the understanding and the processing of
existential givens. The two case studies report the way that Joni‘s songs have
become connected with traumatic events in their lives.
On the three
occasions I have met Joni, I found her to be kind, humble and very down to
earth, not the mythical figure I imagined as a youngster, deeply affected by
her music. It was Joni’s extraordinary ordinariness that was impressive. It
can also be easy to forget that, in amongst the existential, Joni has written
songs of great humour and lightness. Songs like ‘Chelsea Morning,’ ‘Lucky
Girl’, ‘Underneath the Streetlight’, ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’ and ‘Dancing
Clown’ give an insight into the pool playing dancer, the fun loving aspect of
Joni that is frequently overlooked.
Our initial question
asked whether the songs of Joni Mitchell are ‘pleasant distractions’ or life
savers. They may well be both and our findings indicate that people undoubtedly
use them as a tool to better understand their lives. Our evidence suggests that an interesting process is happening with Joni’s songs: the images and ideas that are expressed, the language and the
poetry within an innovative musical landscape provide a discourse with which
people learn to give significance to their life experiences. The data suggests
that, in developing a narrative, some use the discourse to help articulate the
meaning they find in life events while others use it to interrogate their life
stories. This process was clearly in evidence for Marie and Matt, the
subjects in our case studies, and in evidence also with the survivors of the
Magdalene Laundries. Joni seems to find words and music
where others simply cannot.
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Learning to change? The role of identity and learning careers in adult
Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
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