I was twenty years old, a student at the Sorbonne, when Michele and Joni saved my life. The first major love of my life had left me and I was heartbroken, inconsolable. I wasn’t eating or sleeping – I was fading away and felt life was not worth living. A friend, Isabelle, introduced me to her friend Michele who took one look at me and lent me the first eight Joni Mitchell albums with instructions on the administering of the cure.
From the very first track of the very first LP ‘Joni Mitchell’, I was hooked: ‘I can’t go back there anymore / You know my keys won’t fit the door / You know my thoughts don’t fit the man / They never can they never can.’ I knew immediately she had been where I was now and so I was led through this LP with its vague concept of a new life in the city on side 1 and an escape to the seaside on side 2. The song ‘Marcie’ is heartbreaking with its story of a woman who waits for a letter from her lover that never comes as her life passes by, engaged in mundane activities, until she gives up and leaves the city to return to the small town she came from. The next LP ‘Clouds’ finds Joni finding love in lots of different types of men, a philanderer in ‘The Gallery,’ a depressive in ‘Tin Angel’ and a vagabond in ‘That Song About The Midway.’ The following LP ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ sees Joni as the other woman in ‘Conversation’ (“She removes him like a ring / To wash her hands / She only brings him out to show her friends / I want to free him”) but we know that Joni is merely there for “comfort and consultation” and that his question of “Why can’t I leave her?” is rhetorical. It’s a theme she revisits on ‘The Arrangement’ where he could have been “More than a consumer / Lying in the same room trying to die / More than a credit card / Swimming pool in the backyard.” However, in this song, Joni recognises that “the wife she keeps the keys / She is so pleased to be / A part of the arrangement.”
These three LPs are perceptive and offer unique glimpses into the many corners of love but the next LP, ‘Blue’, floored me completely. The LP’s title reflects the mood, and the songs show a woman completely devestated. The first line of the first song, ‘All I Want’, has Joni “on a lonely road and I am travelling” confused about her feelings for her lover – “Oh I hate you some, I hate you some / I love you some / Oh I love you when I forget about me.” On the title track, there’s a vivid awareness of how easy it is to sink and never resurface: “Well there’s so many sinking now / You’ve got to keep thinking / You can make it through these waves / Acid, booze and ass / Needles, guns and grass /Lots of laughs,” she states with bitter irony. As well as the vicissitudes of love, Blue is also concerned with displacement. The LP started with travel and on ‘This Flight Tonight’ Joni knows the plane she is on is taking her away from her love: “Turn this crazy bird around / I shouldn’t have got on this flight tonight,” whilst in ‘California’ she mourns, “Oh it gets so lonely / When you’re walking / And the streets are full of strangers.” Loss and displacement are at the heart of Blue and they come to a crunching finale in ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’ which sees Joni drunk and by herself in a restaurant late at night: “I’m gonna blow this damn candle out, / I don’t want nobody comin’ over to my table / I got nothing to talk to anybody about / All good dreamers pass this way some day / Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes.” ‘Blue’ is a tour de force and yet, unbelievably, the best was yet to come.