The first time I heard a Joni Mitchell song, I was riding in the front seat of my father’s car. My father listens to all sorts of CDs that he picks up from Starbucks, which is, tragically, the only place in our town that still sells CDs. But the album that my father played that day was from my mother’s archives. It was a Joni Mitchell CD, but I didn’t know that. All I knew was that suddenly this woman was singing to me, breathing her sultry lyrics out of the car speakers, and I was changed. “Help me,” she sang, “I think I’m falling in love again.” I had no idea who this woman was, but as I listened to her singing, singing to me, so nakedly and urgently, the words felt true, even though I hadn’t the least idea about what falling in love entailed, let alone falling in love again. I took that CD from my father’s car, not knowing the name of this woman, only knowing that I needed to hear her voice again. I was in love.
I was thirteen then, I’m eighteen now, and I’m still in love with Joni Mitchell. I believe in Joni Mitchell. Joni is a folk singer, and when she started recording in the 60’s, her voice had a fantastic range; it was clear and pure like sunlight, like glass. Her music consisted of her and her guitar, sometimes a piano. And as she sang her words, which were pure poetry, she lay herself bare, making herself so naked that I sometimes felt ashamed to look. In her song “A Case of You,” she sang about a lover. She sang, “You’re in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet. I could drink a case of you, darling, and still I’d be on my feet.”
Those lyrics disarm me, they cut me. And that’s why I believe in Joni Mitchell. I believe that she is a true artist in a world where art has become diluted and confused, where people’s demands for simplicity and immediacy cause artists to abandon their integrity. But then there’s Joni, who sat in front of an audience with a guitar and lyrics that were so beautiful and painful, but not simple. She expressed truth in her poetry, truth that caught people off guard, and isn’t that what art is supposed to do? Isn’t it supposed to unsettle you with its naked truth? I believe in Joni because I believe in art, in its importance and its power. I believe in this woman, who has sung me to sleep so many times, who has explained love and loneliness to me as I’ve grown up. I believe in her because she reminds me that art can grab you, scare you, throw you into the unknown and then turn around and comfort you. That’s why I believe in Joni Mitchell.
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