The Mindful Bard – Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words

Our Joni: Still Lighting the Path to Creative Freedom

Book: Joni Mitchell: In her Own Words (link)

Author: Malka Marom

“If you just try to remember to keep your heart open, it produces a warmer tone than if you really think You’re hot shit, because the tone is going to get cold then. ”
– Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words

Interviews in which interviewers assert their own personalities into the conversation can be a little grating, and so It’s usually best for the interviewer to remain as anonymous and invisible as possible.

One exception to this rule is when the interviewer has a story that complements or illuminates the story of the interview subject. Another exception is when the interviewer is a good friend of the subject and they’ve shared a bit of the same history.

In this case, journalist and singer Malka Marom, a fan, friend, and chronicler of Joni ‘s career almost from its beginnings, weaves in bits of her own amazing story?and Joni Mitchell’s influence on it?to great effect. She implicitly invites us to do the same.

Marom’s tone in her introduction to the book is like that of many of the best female writers, such as Doris Lessing, who seem to be laying aside all attempts to imitate, opting to rest in a sense of uncertainty and explorative curiosity, a stance that gives their language an almost childlike quality and allows authentic epiphanies to shine through each time they arrive.

Joni Mitchell: In her Own Words is a set of three lengthy interviews that Marom recorded with Joni Mitchell. The first, made in 1973, coincides with Joni’s “nordic blues” period, in which she turned inward to explore and describe her personal pain and pleasure. The second interview, in 1979, came in the middle of her collaboration with some serious jazz giants. The third interview took place in 2012, and comprises Joni’s clear-sighted backward gaze at where She’s been and the conclusions She’s drawn from life.

The book is not just about what Joni accomplished as an artist but also what she meant to several generations of women; her significance for us was as a woman who sought freedom, and yet refused to call herself a feminist?claiming that feminists just copy men (and men, Joni claims, need to be straightened out, not copied).

As a teenager, I worshipped Joni Mitchell, as did so many of us, seeing her as our own personal Sherpa guide through the perilous climb of late 20th century Western culture. I stopped listening when it seemed that Joni was becoming too caught up in her own ego, but when I later saw the missing pieces of her story it all made sense. And it was all knowledge I could use on my own journey; Joni’s life and the conclusions she drew from it helped explain the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of my world and my era.

This is definitely a book for creative types, and It’s probably one of the most valuable biographical works that a mindful bard can read. The pleasure of vicariously walking through Joni’s life, stormy and baffling as it so often was, is a regenerative experience, creating a thirst for creative growth and authentic achievement.

What does this book teach us about the artist’s journey? It teaches us to defy boundaries and pigeonholes while using them as springboards to nonconformity.

Some of the things that helped Joni succeed were witnessing and glorying in her own growth, a desire to prove the naysayers wrong, and a conviction that you don’t have to accept anything anyone tells you if it doesn’t resonate with your own deepest personal convictions. It didn’t hurt that she had a willingness to harness the power of aesthetic shifts triggered by seemingly trivial events (like Leonard Cohen telling her to draw him without looking at the paper).

Joni’s words about her life and work are completely eclipsed by the beauty of her songs, but her comments on her journey are still pretty golden.

Joni Mitchell: In her Own Words manifests nine of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for books well worth reading.

– It’s authentic, original, and delightful.
– It poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence.
– It provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavor.
– It’s about attainment of the true self.
– It inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation.
– It displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering.
– It gives me artistic tools.
– It makes me want to be a better artist.
– It makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomena, making living a unique opportunity.