Tuesday, April 10, 2012

the act of escaping from a hostile environment

tonight, as darkness envelopes the sky and then pours in through the windows, i've felt a deep wish to hear joni mitchell singing "hejira". i know that i have already posted about this song sometime ago so forgive me if i clean that old post up a bit and repost it here. joni mitchell, like her compatriot neil young, has left behind a legacy of powerful, life affecting music. joni’s iconic role as a post sixties intelligent female artist in a business that has traditionally marginalized intelligent women or subsumed them into so much floss, was what first drew me to her. i loved her intelligence, her creativity as a singer, and as an artist, and i loved that she created music that was more than the sum of its parts.

like most people, my first experience of her music came through her big breakthrough hit “big yellow taxi” which included the memorable line ...” they paved paradise and put up a parking lot...” and the equally memorable line “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone?” it wasn’t until several years later that i happened across an album that i still listen to regularly entitled "hejira"


i first heard hejira while living in a residence room in otonabee college at trent university in 1976. the album as a whole has highs and lows which are reflective of her lyrical depiction of the dance of self in a world torn between predictability and chaos. one of the more melancholy songs, the title track "hejira" stands out for me as the highlight among many highlights in the lifelibrary of words and music she has crafted in her more than fourty year career. the songs on hejira were largely written by joni on a road trip from maine back to los angeles, california. this likely explains the many references to highways, small towns and snow. joni said of the album: "the whole 'hejira' album was really inspired. ... i wrote the album while travelling cross-country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it. ... the sweet loneliness of solitary travel. ...." the laying bare of joni’s inner self is never more complete than when she sings in “hejira”, “there’s comfort in melancholy when there’s no need to explain”. later when she sings, “you know it never has been easy, whether you do or you do not resign, whether you travel the breadth of extremities, or stick to some straighter line” she drives home the essence of the painful inner torment that plagues all creatively driven individuals - the need to strive for some form of balance between acceptance both within and without themselves - the two being mutually incompatible, sometimes even destructive. joni has often drawn stunningly talented musicians into her circle, and this track is no exception featuring the brilliant and now sadly flown away bassist jaco pastorius (who first found fame with jazz group “weather report”), wrapping the most beautiful and memorable arcing bass lines like velvet ribbon around the gift of her words.

here then are the beautiful words to

i'm traveling in some vehicle
i'm sitting in some cafe
a defector from the petty wars
that shell shock love away
there's comfort in melancholy
when theres no need to explain
it's just as natural as the weather
in this moody sky today
in our possessive coupling
so much could not be expressed
so now i'm returning to myself
these things that you and i suppressed
i see something of myself in everyone
just at this moment of the world
as snow gathers like bolts of lace
waltzing on a ballroom girl

you know it never has been easy
whether you do or you do not resign
whether you travel the breadth of extremities
or stick to some straighter line
now heres a man and a woman sitting on a rock
they're either going to thaw out or freeze
strains of benny goodman
coming through the snow and the pinewood trees
i'm porous with travel fever
but you know Im so glad to be on my own
still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
can set up trembling in my bones
i know - no one's going to show me everything
we all come and go unknown
each so deep and superficial
between the forceps and the stone

well i looked at the granite markers
those tribute to finality - to eternity
and then i looked at myself here
chicken scratching for my immortality
in the church they light the candles
and the wax rolls down like tears
there's the hope and the hopelessness
i've witnessed thirty years
we're only particles of change i know, i know
orbiting around the sun
but how can I have that point of view
when Im always bound and tied to someone
white flags of winter chimneys
waving truce against the moon
in the mirrors of a modern bank
from the window of a hotel room

i'm traveling in some vehicle
i'm sitting in some cafe
a defector from the petty wars
until love sucks me back that way."

i worked in downtown toronto one summer a very long time ago and
the male figure skater in this video used to unknowingly cross paths with me as
we each went out to buy french bread and pate for lunch.
he's an incredibly talented man. toller cranston.


Ruth said...

Steven, this is a seminal album and song for me too. There was a period last year when I needed to listen to this song on my drive through the farm fields on the way to work day after day after day. I couldn't get enough of it. She is a muse beyond any other for me. Whenever I am stumped for inspiration, all I have to do is listen to one song, and sometimes only a line. And the harmonics of Joco Pastorius layer it with such perfection beneath her bolts of lace...

Ruth said...

Oh, and I loved the interpretation of Toller Cranston. Wow.

steven said...

ruth! thanks for your comments. joni was the first woman to break through a strange block i had to listening to and hearing women singers - i was in first year university when that strange bubble burst and i still can't figure out why it was even there . . . . . . i was drawn to her through the presence of jaco's bass playing, and then i fell in love with her voice, her words and finally got to listen to all that had come before it . . . steven

Linda Sue said...

Have crushed hard on Joni ever since her very first album. Thank you for posting this- I am so in love all over again.
Fabulous artist, our Joni!

R. Burnett Baker said...

Just love love love Joni. I have all her albums, my particular favorite was the chart topper "Court And Spark". She, like Janis Ian, is one who wrote music that demanded one listen to the lyrics, read the stories, and become a part of them.

In my opinion, there are no artists today of her caliber. If only she still toured.......

ANd, she's quite a painter.

(OOOH this new word verify is infuriating!)

ok.....4th try......