July 28, 2021

Joni Mitchell, a unique voice, a great songwriter and a turbulent life

From a very young age Joni Mitchell he had a very clear sense of what freedom and free will means. He was interested in music and painting. He got on badly with school and with all forms of formal education; in fact, at a certain point, he dropped out of school (which he later resumed). At the age of nine he was already smoking. Also at that age he contracted polio, from which he recovered. Born in Canada, eventually moved to the United States.

He began composing songs at a time when country music tended to overshadow rock; Joni wanted to play guitar but with her polio-weakened left hand she concentrated on the ukulele. This condition forced her to develop alternate chords that on the guitar led her to use open tunings, with more complex harmonies of a unique sound.

His popularity grew exponentially because his songs were covered by established musicians. With her mezzo-soprano voice, which over time the cigarette turned into a contralto, she was the owner of a remarkable vocal amplitude and a powerful poetry in the lyrics. One of his most celebrated songs, “Woodstock” – about the legendary rock festival he didn’t actually attend – was made more famous by the Crosby, Still, Nash & Young cover.

When he saw her perform at a Florida club, David Crosby himself was immediately interested, took her with him to Los Angeles and introduced her to David Geffen, one of the industry moguls.

Mitchell combined his confessional-style folk with the languages ​​of jazz, blues, rock and pop. She was also attentive to the worldly reality that she perceived around her; in his song “Big Yellow Taxi” he says in one line “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”.

Critics say that it has influenced a large number of musicians of various genres, such as the band of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Elvis Costello and the same Prince, for example in his song “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”.

His life, like that of many artists, it has been turbulent. Very young, he had a daughter who was not in a position to raise and gave her up for adoption. A daughter that decades later he recovered. He retired from music during long absences and then returned with a jazz-inclined style and a band that included Herbie Hancock already Charles Mingus.

It is difficult to summarize in a few lines the life of such an artist, her health problems, her political concerns, the awards and honors she received and the links she established throughout her career with artists such as Willy Nelson, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, Bryan Adams, Elton John and the greats of jazz. He does not like to perform in public but participated in the tribute that was offered to him at the Toronto Luminato Festival in 2013 when he turned 70 years old.

The writer Tamara Tenembaum described it with beauty and precision: “The central theme of Joni Mitchell’s work is the difficulty of growing up to oneself in freedom. The sacrifices that freedom asks of you, which is a priesthood and a solitary priesthood ”.