Post Newport Folk Festival, the world is a'twitter with Joni Mitchell. Her revelatory set, surrounded by a bevvy of adoring musicians, moved the world to tears.
After having survived a very scary brain aneurism, it was assumed that our Goddess Genius Grand Confessionalist and Brillaint Poet Songwriter would never emerge from the deep waters of brain stress. And so, when she began to sing "Both Sides Now' the bittersweet and poignant irony was intact and bleeding all over our hearts. Indeed, Joni has seen both sides now!
How many of us have been reared with her dulcet tones on the record player? My mother was a fan, and I do remember "Blue" playing over and over. The album cover haunted me. It was velveteen and mysterious and spoke of a world as private as your first period. I am positive that Joni imprinted a consciousness in me. I didn't understand it at the time, but her confessions made me feel grown up, with access to the rated adult stuff. I yearned to be prescient, sensitive, and of course, already blonde, I dreamed and hoped I would grow up to be like Joni Mitchell, floating in and out of parties and secretly making notes about each guest.
After all, I had been raised reading "Harriet the Spy" and having moved often in my life, I did not fit in any where, not with my accent, my odd thoughts or my fantasy world. Joni as Insider suited me.
And so, eventually, when I became my own musician and entered my own generation, I left Joni behind for Kurt Cobain. I cut my hair and didn't think about writing secret thoughts of lust and love in my songs. I was in the mosh pit. I felt Eddie Vedder's "Jeremy." I identified more with guys who played guitars and had scorn for the limpid "Lilith."
But come full circle. To the Circle Game. And Joni with Brandi Carlisle and Winona Judd in the background. Joni defying the odds, playing her guitar, singing, a full set. The empowered Brandi who brought Joni back. The Mumfords, and other folkies connecting the generations.
To be seen with Joni Mitchell, to be part of that moment. And would it be assumed that these are the new progeny, the ones who follow Joni? Is this not a leg-up to a career, especially in these times when we crave an amazing comeback? When it seems the older generation goes on and on, and we sycophantically cheer them, these legends who seem to never die.
I am a huge fan of the bands my dad loved. The Beatles. The Stones. The 60s and 70s were heady times. Will any of us ever break beyond them? Be as good as they were?
You hear people talking about how music just isn't as good as it used to be.
But I want to posit a different idea.
We don't have an industry full of Sir George Martins. Or David Geffens. Or record companies with Mo Ostins and big fat budgets. The industry is not a "Star-maker machine" now, as Joni once described it. Its a Branding Business. Can you sell perfume? Can your music be used on ads? Can you act? Can you do commercials? Well then, climb on board.
We have become so product-oriented, that we even put musicians in positions of buying product just so they think they have a fighting chance to be heard. Spotify anyone?
Where once there was a koi pond, with a few goldfish allowed to grow, now we are a sea of krill.
And, this metaphor aside, each musician now has to pay for what the record company used to not only pay for but export and promote.
Neil Young. Joni Mitchell.Cat Stevens. Nilsson. We know these names. And they mattered. They made music that still sticks. And why? Maybe they were less concerned with performing inside a genre. Maybe they were allowed to develop and become whatever it was they needed to become. Whether it was folk. Pop. Rock. Jazz.
It's easy for us, yes, to make product. Is there too much product? It isn't easy for any of us musicians to be seen.
So when I watch Joni, surrounded by this years' It musicians, I feel their hunger. That hunger to be acknowledged as on the same playing field as Ms Mitchell has been. As part of a legacy of music that goes on and on. As wanting to defy that cruel business sense that the corporations have placed on music these days. Well, the technology has done this too.
Joni has been very unfortunate, and has come back. but she has also had fortunes that many now-artists may not be able to avail themselves of. Witnessing Joni gave hope, and made us cheer her. It seemed she was having fun, too. We need these stories.
But we also need to feel like some of our music could matter. Just as much as "Big Yellow Taxi."
So while we celebrate the past, we wonder. What's next for us? On OUR carousel of time.