Translated from the original Italian by Vincenzo Mancini
On stage at 78, diva on social media. Cult concert in Newport in July (post aneurysm). Among her fans Taylor Swift
When they asked her for an encore, and they did so with the respect and uncertainty of someone who does not want to tire an elderly person out, she had already put down her guitar and sat down on what (rightly) looked more like a golden throne than an armchair. But the piano, to the right of the stage, began to play the first unmistakable notes of 'Both Sides Now', and then Joni Mitchell leaned slightly closer to the microphone, also golden (as befits a queen) and began to sing: '... ice-cream castles in the air, and feather canyons everywhere', and time stopped. Newport, 25 July 2022.
New York, 10 March 1967, the day she wrote what immediately appeared to everyone to be a masterpiece. She was a 23-year-old girl, and when she made a surprise reappearance on stage in Newport she was a lady of 78, weakened but unbowed by the aneurysm that in 2015 had left her unable to walk and talk.
Two weeks after the surprise concert at the Newport Festival, her first in 20 years, it's human to wonder why Joni Mitchell has gone incredibly 'viral' on social media, with her performance bouncing from social to social, and Rolling Stone magazine was wondering the other day in a follow-up podcast, 'Music Now', how she - she who was born on November 7, 1943 - became a heroine for millennials and Generation Z.
Today's artists like Taylor Swift (Mitchell as dry as ever, explained that she had never listened to her music 'but she looks like me, narrow hips and high cheekbones: if it's true that she wants to play a film about my life, good luck') and Harry Styles bow to her genius. Styles, a young English gentleman, admitted that listening to her he 'fell into Joni's chasm' (it happens to the best of us: Bob Dylan wrote a song about this phenomenon, 'Tangled Up In Blue') and dedicated a respectful and emotional cover to 'Big Yellow Taxi'.
For years now, stylists have been inspired by her '60s and '70s Bohemian looks from Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles: the velvet jackets, the cigarette trousers, the very straight hair with or without fringes, the tweed coats, the denim shirts, the oversized ethnic necklaces, the dark glasses, the geometrically cut black bikini from Norman Seeff's famous photo for 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' (years ago The New York magazine chose her for the cover of its fashion issue).
Joni Mitchell's intergenerational magic is made up of music (timeless), looks (ditto), and above all the certainty - evident even to the youngest, it's not a question of age - that we will never hear another 'Blue' except from her. And that yesterday's pop music will be tomorrow's classical, and in this transition phase we are realising this (Gershwin, for example, has already completed the journey, like Cole Porter did).
But the best words about the Newport surprise came from guitarist and songwriter James Taylor in a TV interview a few days ago: 'Joni? You can't stop her,' he said with infinite sweetness of the only woman who ever made him cry. He had a torrid affair with her when they were 'just kids', beautiful as the sun. And for her, he wrote 'You Can Close Your Eyes' - 'So this old world must still be spinning 'round and I still love you' - watching her sleep in their motel room in the desert, a long time ago.
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