Friday, November 6, 2009

True Blue

Most marriages are filled with compromise, and my own is no exception. I always tell Dov that it's a good thing we don't own a house—we'd never agree on the interior décor. But he always insists that there is plenty we can agree on and we'd have no trouble finding that place of agreement. Maybe so.

But while we can and do find places of happy agreement, there are still a great number of tastes and issues on which we will never see eye to eye. We have learned to stay out of each others' way with mutual good grace so as to provide us the freedom to pursue our differences. Music is a good example of the way this marital consideration works. I love Joni Mitchell, Dov hates her with a capital H.

I get it--I get why he doesn't like Joni: her voice with its twists and turns, sails into the higher registers and grates on his nerves. But I like that about her. I just do. Her jazzy vocals don't just sing, they speak. I don't like all of Mitchell's music, but I could listen to the tracks from Blue, for instance, all day, and never, ever tire of them.

I have the habit of falling in love with songs, so that I can listen to a single, beloved song over and over at full volume, for hours at a time. That's how it is for me with All I Want, Carey, Case of You, and California. I used to wait until Dov left for work, and then blast those songs, in a continuous shuffle, as I swooned and crooned, attempting to match her vocal acrobatics.

Now that I have an Ipod, I can listen to my heart's content without causing offense to my dear husband, though there is a certain amount of occasional annoyance generated by the idea that I've cut myself off from him and the kids. I've learned to keep one earpiece in and the other dangling, so no one feels scorned: not my family, and not Joni, either.

Yes. I'm on a first name basis with this particular singer, because she is singing my soul. The other day I wrote about the affection we have for reading diaries because they represent the writer's truest and deepest emotions without concern for others' eyes. The tracks on Blue, both the music and the lyrics, are like that, offered with such complete honesty it makes me ache.

Maybe Joni's musical/lyrical approach back in 1971, when Blue came out, was a bit immature in its full-blown rush of emotion. In 1979, Joni discussed the way the music on this album reflected her raw, emotional state at that time, "The Blue album, there's hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn't pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either."

That's the precise reason the album became so popular: the music and lyrics are so open and poignant that you suspect the writer was either very brave or never thought anyone else would ever listen in. I don't believe anyone other than Joni has the power to convey that state of raw adolescent feeling as expressed in All I Want. James Taylor's gutsy guitar on this track is unashamed and strong. That guitar is like a heartbeat weaving in and out of the words:

"I want to talk to you, I want to shampoo you.
I want to renew you again and again.
Applause, applause—life is our cause
When I think of your kisses my mind see-saws."

Most of the time, lyrics don't mean much to me. I'm paying much more attention to the music. But with Joni, it's different. To my mind, the most poignant lyrics ever heard on the subject of longing can be heard in My Old Man:

"The bed's too big/The frying pan's too wide."

In Blue, Joni took emotion and turned it into an art form.


  1. Do you follow his Song of the Week?

    Look at this special post today and follow the links, especially the one for the podcast.

  2. To whom are you referring? What special post?

  3. Sorry. I forgot the link.