Posts tagged “Joni Mitchell

A Painter Who Writes Songs


“On DON JUAN’S RECKLESS DAUGHTER,  I gave Jaco some instruction (the one and only time) and he took it without resistance.”

“The title song is a long song — around six minutes long. My guitar has a rhythmic drive to it, and Jaco and Alex Acuña (the drummer on the date) had locked up together and were pushing it along with a Latin feel. It made the song seem even longer. I decided to break them up and put them on one at a time.”

“I told Jaco, “This is a kind of surrealistic tune — a lot of Scorpio metaphors and Yagui Indian mysticism. It needs a tom-tom feel — but not 4 on the floor.” It needed a repetitive figure with space between figures to kind of half-time it against the drive of the guitar — something like . . . (and I sang a part to him, making sliding gestures with my right arm), “Ga-ga-ga-goom, ga-ga-ga-goom.” Jaco cradled the neck of his bass in his left hand. He tuned the strings to an open chord and he played the figures without any fretting. He banged the strings at the top of the neck with his fist and he slid to the bottom for the “goom.” Halfway through the take, his hand was shredded like he had run it over a carrot grater. We stopped tape, punched him in, and he finished the song playing with the heel of his hand. At the end of the song it was shredded, too. We wrapped his hand in a paper towel and played back the track. When the song was over, he turned to me and said, “That should’ve been on my album!” I said, “Who cares whose album it’s on? It’s you and it’s on tape.”


(Photo by Norman Jean Roy)

“Then it was Alex’s turn. I had the notion that he should jingle and thump — that pow-wow sound. I had some native ankle bells — big harness bells on leather straps. We tied them on him. We placed a baffle on the floor. It was slightly curved. Henry put a mike under it and one beside it and Alex danced a Peruvian salsa to the track. I loved it — jingle and thump. It blended into the guitars in an unusual way. It was a bent-knee dance and when the song was over, he limped off the baffle. He couldn’t straighten up for an hour, but he agreed it sounded great.”

“There was one more casualty on this record date — “the split-tongued spirit.” Boyd Elder, a painter from Texas possessing Cherokee blood and a native sounding voice, was to double my voice with spoken word. He stepped up to the mike and froze. We sent out for a bottle of tequila to loosen him up. Next thing I knew, he was lying on the floor by the mike — the bottle nearly drained and he was saying, “I can’t do it Joan.” His wife and I and his two daughters kneeled beside saying, “Yes you can. Yes you can.” After much coaxing, he was on his feet and the lines were on the song — shadowing the sung words! What a night.”

(Listen with  headphones)

“The spirit talks in spectrums
He talks to mother earth to father sky
Self indulgence to self denial
Man to woman
Scales to feathers
You and I
Eagles in the sky
You and I
Snakes in the grass
You and I
Crawl and fly
You and I”


A red sun came rolling down a grey sky

Art by Kirsti Ottem Langeland

Wedged between the masterpiece of ‘Hejira’ and her dive head first into the world of ‘Mingus’ came this continued exploration and experiment with theme, harmonics, rhythm, and lyricism. It didn’t hurt that she had a wizard accompany her into this double album by the name of Jaco Pastorius. He along with the other musicians helped propel and translate the genius coming through Joni Mitchell’s ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’, which remains one of her favorite albums for me. Listen to this 1st track (with headphones if you can, to hear all of the richness of her harmonies and the dancing bass of Pastorius) as it lays the groundwork for one of the themes of this 2 record set. It is as if swirling spirits hovering over the earth come crashing down and begin to play in some funky little town. (Perhaps a jazzy percussive version of the colder ‘Wings of Desire‘, Wim Wenders meditation story of an angel who falls in love with a circus performer)



Joni turns 70 this year and back on June 18 and 19 at the Luminato Festival, a tribute concert was held in her honor. She had not performed in public for quite some time due to illness. It was announced she would appear and read a poem set to music, accompanied by Herbie Hancock, but she surprised the audience by performing a couple of songs. Her illness has greatly reduced her vocal range and it must have been quite a courageous step for her to give it a go. As you can see in the clip below, she crosses her fingers as the 1st song begins but she pulls it off. Acknowledging the difficulty she was having early on, the audience’s enthusiastic cheer seemed to energize her. To me it is magic to see her up there still phrasing like the accomplished artist she still is, with lyrics that read like poetry (Pawn shops glitter like gold tooth caps in the grey decay). Reaching the 70 year mark in this life is still an accomplishment as one begins the apprenticeship for the great departure, as David Whyte puts it, but to me, though diminished by age and illness, the spark that comes through Joni is still there, still vibrant, still distinctly hers.