Posted by: gdevi | November 7, 2013

“Marbled Bowling Ball” – Happy Birthday Joni Mitchell

Happy Birthday, dear Joni Mitchell!

It takes a particular kind of human eye to see the granularity of the world, both from near and from afar. Perhaps, being a painter helps, and certainly Joni Mitchell has reflected this world–this “marbled bowling ball” as she characterizes it in that gorgeous song from Hejira — as no other singer-songwriter has in the English language. She is particularly adept at capturing with expressionistic vividness the sight, sense and sound of the hissing of summer lawns, crickets clicking in the ferns, palm trees in the porch light like slick black cellophane, pawn shops that glitter like gold tooth caps, that ruby in a black man’s ear, staring a hole in your scrambled egg . . . that last image, one of the few emotional figures that you find in Mitchell’s writing. Though it is customary to think of Mitchell as someone who has written about her “life,” when you really look at her writing, she does not really write about her interior life at all. Again, it is probably because she is a painter, if Mitchell has written about her life, it is as a painter does–the admissions and announcements are highly stylized that they are not really her life anymore. When so much of popular music is loud, embarrassing and often dishonorable to listen to, both in its music and its lyrics, Joni Mitchell has constructed an aesthetic of artful quietness, of introspection aimed only at oneself. I think this comes from being a painter; a painter paints primarily for oneself, not because there are people waiting for the paintings.

The very first CD that I ever bought was Mitchell’s Blue; I had cassettes up until then. I like several songs in Blue; in particular, “Little Green,” which I can never listen to without choking up. It is a song that I like to sing. “Carey” is a timeless song to my ears; beautiful, clear voice (incredible breath control), and just shimmering guitar. It is another song that I like to sing. I like to sing all the songs in Blue actually. Like the songs of Bob Dylan, or the Beatles, one can sing Joni Mitchell’s songs without dishonoring oneself. That is so important.

My favorite album is Hejira. The songs on this album are lyrically super strong, and the instrumentation and arrangements, particularly, the dominant ambient use of Jaco Pastorius’s bass playing is unforgettable and takes the songs to a transcendent level. I listen to this CD a lot. If I am to draw an analogy with literature, to me listening to Hejira is like reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook or for the quieter moments, like Marguerite Duras’s novels. It is intensely introspective, but it uses travel–something extrinsic–as the organizing metaphor. I think Pastorius’s bass provides the musical ground for the intense introspection of the songs. I don’t think I will ever stop listening to Hejira.

I like the “pop”-ishness of Court and Spark, and I like the “rock”-ishness of Night Ride Home as well. It is like Boston, only better written and better sung. I love the song Two Grey Rooms; it is so atmospheric. I can see myself writing a song like this. It is a classic rock song, in the original sense of the word, like Emerson, Lake and Palmer or someone like that. Incredibly beautiful arrangements. It is a beautiful song to sing. I also like the return to the rock-ishness in Turbulent Indigo.

English is my second language, and second languages don’t feel musical; it is just the hazard of having another first language. But I first experienced the natural beauty of the English language through the music of the Beatles, and then Joni Mitchell’s songs. They feel like first language to me. Thank you, Joni Mitchell. Happy birthday to you! Khuda sada salamat rakhe!

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