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60 Minutes with Joni Mitchell Print-ready version

The great goddess of open tunings fashions her ultimate travel tape.

by Vic Garbarini
Guitar World
September 1996
Original article: PDF

[Transcribed by Kevin Christopher]

The great goddess of open tunings fashions her ultimate travel tape.

There probably isn't a serious guitarist-songwriter who hasn't worn out a copy of Blue (Reprise, 1970 [sic, 1971]), Court and Spark (Asylum, 1974), or the musically and lyrically exotic Hejira (Asylum, 1976). Like her fellow Canadian Neil Young, Joni Mitchell has been making groundbreaking music for over three decades. She's also been cited as a role model for every emerging female guitarist and songwriter, having boldly shattered every cheesy gender stereotype with her real-life, introspective songwriting and innovative playing. Plus, she knows more alternate tunings than Jimmy Page and Stone Gossard combined.

Mitchell took a mostly chronological approach to answering the 60 Minutes question, "You're about to go to Neptune, and you're only allowed one-hour's worth of music on board. What would you put on that tape?"

As Mitchell puts it, "Every once in a while during your life you'll hear something that stops you in your tracks, something that makes the hair on your arms stand up, and there's no explanation for it. You're just ready for it at that moment. The first piece of music that did that to me---I was about eight, I guess---was the title song to a movie I saw called The Story Of Three Loves, [1953] starring Kirk Douglas. Actually, it was a classical piece called . . .

RHAPSODY ON A THEME OF PAGANINI---Variation No. 18 [1934]
Sergei Rachmaninov
Classics At The Movies (RCA, 1934) [sic, 1991]

"To this day, I can say it's the most beautiful melody I've ever heard. It was the first thing that told me I had to make music. I have this mystical connection with it, because I have a CD that says either his writer's block finally broke, or he performed it for the first time on November 7, 1943. That's the day and year I was born."

[Transcriber note: Rachmaninov died, according to the Britannica website, in Beverly Hills, March 28, 1943. His first American performance was a recital at Smith College, Northampton, Mass., November 4, 1909. However, the first performance of his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was given on November 7, 1934 in Baltimore, Maryland, with the composer as soloist and Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. The same performers made the first recording the following month on Christmas Eve. Perhaps Joni's dyslexia led her to reverse 1934 to 1943. See blog.bostonphil.org]

JOHNNY B. GOODE [1958]
Chuck Berry
The Chess Box (Chess/MCA, 1988)

"Why? DA DA DA/DE DE DE DE DE DE/DA DA DA/DE DE DE DE. That's why."

WILL YOU STILL LOVE ME TOMORROW [1960]
The Shirelles
Dedicated To You (Capricorn CK, 1960)

"God, the number of quarters I shoved into jukeboxes for that song. I'd sit in the A&M [Records] lunchroom and smoke and drink Coca-Cola and just dream into that song."

[Transcriber note: The Shirelles appear to have never released an album by that name. The 1984 oldies compilation album, Art Laboe's "Dedicated To You," includes a Shirelles song, but not the one above. It will be found on Tonight's The Night (Scepter, 1960) and lots of CDs, e.g., The Shirelles Greatest Hits---The Scepter Years (Repertoire, 1999)]

ANSWER ME MY LOVE [1954]
Nat King Cole
The Best Of Nat "King" Cole (Capitol, 1968)

"I love anything that has wide intervals in the vocals like that, where he steps up to a fourth or a fifth. Most melodies are all thirds---singers usually don't get that brave."

NEFERTITI [1968]
Miles Davis
Nefertiti (Columbia, 1967) [sic, 1968]

"Also, anything from In A Silent Way [1969] and Kind of Blue [1959]. I'm still learning from that music. Oddly enough, it's probably still the major influence on my long-term musical plan. If you go back and listen to Nefertiti, with Wayne Shorter and Miles playing, they start out in unison. But as the track goes on they pull away from each other---like silk screening. They're still playing the same melody, but they're slightly out of phase with each other. As a painter and musician, I liked that on an audio-visual level. In silk screening, you lay your blue on and then your red, you off-center it a bit, and you get the same kind of slightly out-of-sync feel."

POSITIVELY 4TH STREET [1965]
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (Columbia, 1967)

"It gave you the freedom to write on any topic with a base of any emotion. I thought, 'If he could write a song from self-righteous anger like that, you could write from anywhere.' Bob covers so much pictorial territory. Incredible imagery."

THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER [1969]
Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock (MCA, 1994)

"'The Star-Mangled Banner,' yeah. Just for the pure violence of it. The chaos. As far as cacophony goes, that's my favorite bit."

NORWEGIAN WOOD [1965]
The Beatles
Rubber Soul (Capitol, 1965]

"That was the Beatles album I played and played. I used to sing that song in my coffeehouse days in Detroit. This is before I started writing myself, and it appealed to me as a scenario. It has this whimsical, kind of charming quality. I'd sing it to put some levity in my set. I got a kick out of throwing it in there amongst these tragic English folk ballads. Besides, I have Norwegian blood."

MEXICO [1975]
James Taylor
Gorilla (Warner Bros., 1975)

"I like so many of James's songs, it's really hard to choose one. I especially like the melody and spirit of this song; it's another one that stops me in my tracks. He's opted, as Dylan has, for the road. You have to make a decision in that respect. If you're going to be a road rat, you can't be a writer. There's just no life to write about. And I think in some ways he regrets his decision. He's not a natural writer in the sense that he's driven to write. Peter Gabriel is the same way. You have to lock them up and make them do it."

DE DO DO DO, DE DA DA DA [1980]
The Police
Zenyatta Mondatta (A&M, 1980)

"I've danced in the Caribbean for weeks to that song. I'm an old rock-and-roll dancer, you know. The stops, the pauses in that one, are really fun. I appreciated the rhythmic hybrids, the gaps between bass lines, the repetitive figures with space between them. James Taylor and I had dinner with Sting once at our mutual manager's place. He was quite effusive about us being his heroes. So I always think of him as our son."

PUNK JAZZ [1978]
Weather Report
Mr. Gone (Columbia, 1971) [sic, 1978]

"Weather Report was the most aggressive 'synthetic' band prior to the punk movement. [Joe] Zawinul had a keyboard sound that was much more interesting than anything at the time. Jaco [Pastorius] was doing things with the low end I'd been dreaming about, and Wayne Shorter was musically a metaphorical thinker, like me. Probably because we're both painters."

DEACON BLUES [1977]
Steely Dan
Aja (MCA, 1977)

"The arrangement. The melody. The wit."

SUZANNE [1967]
Leonard Cohen
Songs Of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1968) [sic 1967]

"That's another one with a mystical connection. I was sitting in a boat in Miami Bay with the biggest liar in town, a guy who was pretending to be Tim Buckley. Looked just like him, but I knew he was a fake. I closed my eyes and recited the Jesus verse: [sings] 'And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water.' When I opened my eyes the sunset actually turned green. I later learned that it's a local phenomenon associated with the Seminole Indians. So that sunset, to me, seemed to be triggered by the watery verse in 'Suzanne.' Sitting in a boat with the biggest liar in Miami."

DOLL PARTS [1994]
Hole
Live Through This (DGC, 1994)

"Sometimes I could listen day in and day out and hardly hear an honest line. There's being really low, and then there's pretending to be low because it's trendy to be miserable. There's so much falseness in that stuff. There's a line in a Courtney [Love] song that stopped me: 'I fake it so real, I am beyond fake.' That, at least, has an element of truth and revelation in it."

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