Thursday, 20 November 2014

Fucking Joni Mitchell

"Coyote" by Joni Mitchell
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7MbmXklj3Q
A few weekends back, I found myself up late (an unusual circumstance), clicking the TV remote weakly and aimlessly (a too usual circumstance), and fell across The Last Waltz, a movie I remembered loving when I first saw it long ago. I fell back into it pretty well right away and pretty well started loving it all over again, too, but I also found myself, this time around, distracted and annoyed by the between-song interviews, which were giving so much face time to Robbie Robertson. I know he was the chief songwriter, but he was coming across (admittedly, to my drooping old self) as a preening, narcissistic dick. I couldn't figure out why the director of the thing, Martin Scorsese, had decided to talk to him so much when I'd always assumed that the other guys couldn’t not also be interesting (I can still be slightly fanboyish once in a while, despite my about-to-be-a-grandfather status), especially because Mr. Robertson was, as I’ve suggested, acting like a 1970s-style hipster egomaniac.

But because there was so much good music coming at me, I didn’t pick at that little nit of irritation, especially since a big part of so many of the wonderful songs I was hearing was Mr. Robertson’s beautiful electric guitar. Jesus, he could really play. (He almost kept up with Eric Clapton on the blues number the latter sang and played during his turn on stage.) And all those great male voices! Levon Helm's was my favourite (always had been), but I could die easily enough listening to Rick Danko or Richard Manuel sing me out.

I guess I'm saying the TV signal was a happy one, but a high-testosterone one, too. And then, out of nowhere, a packet of digital info had a stunning, spotlit Joni Mitchell coming out and singing a number called "Coyote." (Before she started she not only kissed Mr. Robertson, she stroked his face, so I take back anything less than complimentary I might have been thinking about him.) Female beauty doesn't come much better than how Ms. Mitchell looked that night, and female voices don't sound much better than hers did that night, and I realized I was just watching what I was watching and just hearing what I was hearing almost forty years after it happened, several thousand kilometers from where it happened, through a smeared lens (you know, fucking movies) and lousy speakers, and that I was in a highly suggestible condition (it was late, and I was tired, and I'm older than I used to be), but now I really did feel younger and happier and more cheerful than I had in some time -- and it was the middle of the night! (Women! Music!)

What would we do without love songs? Joni Mitchell's "Coyote" is one of those two-ships-passing-in-the-night love songs, and the way it was sung that night in 1976 was flawlessly primal and pure, and so sophisticated, self-mocking, self-knowing, other-knowing, ethos-knowing, earthy, happy, wistful, and (best of all) ecstatic. No matter when you were born, no matter if you're a man or a woman, whenever you get the chance to see an acutely intelligent, acutely ecstatic woman tame a big male stage and a big, intoxicated audience like the one she was singing to, you should take that chance. (Women! Music!) And because the song is also an ingeniously loose, swinging poem, listen to every word. Because the voice is perfect, listen to every note it sounds. Because "The Band" becomes a nice, steady, sort-of-jazz combo backing a very bright star, listen to them, too, if you want to. But make a special effort to listen for the bliss in the surging love added by that voice's new words to the last iteration of the song's only repeating couplet. She was fucking Joni Mitchell, man. She had it all.

Listen to it again. Watch it again. You know you want to. (Put some headphones on this time.)



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