Much like Zadie Smith in the article, I was never much of a Joni Mitchell fan. We may be one of the only houses in America without a copy of Blue somewhere. Much of my ignorance about her comes from simply not being exposed to her. Which also seems absurd and yet it is true.
I know her from covers, which should establish her as a great songwriter, if nothing else. And by now I know a number of her songs, like this one. This is kind of a Christmas song (it has the word Christmas in it), although it’s not very Christmassy. I have a hard time believing that Zadie Smith’s husband never noticed that she is quoting the music from Jingle Bells in the beginning of the song though, as it’s really quite obvious.
It’s a pretty song, and hey maybe it’s time to see what else is on Blue.
[READ: December 20, 2012] “Some Notes on Attunement”
I love hearing about Zadie Smith’s family–her hip black mother and her dorky white father. I love that she embraces both sides of her life. And when she writes about it, she presents it so fully. So growing up her parents listened to Burning Spear and Chaka Khan and Duke Ellington and James Taylor and Bob Dylan and yet somehow never Joni Mitchell. And she wonders how they didn’t know or perhaps why they didn’t like her. [My parents were to old for folk music, so that’s my excuse].
She talks about the first time she heard Joni, at a college party (it was Blue, of course) and frowned at it. Her friends, both black and white said, “You don’t like Joni?” But, she explains, “Aged twenty, I listened to Joni Mitchell–a singer whom millions enjoy, who does not, after all, make an especially unusual or esoteric sound–and found he incomprehensible.”
And then at 33 she had another experience–listening to Joni Mitchell in a car with her husband on the way to Wales. Which is where we hear her saying “And that bit’s just Jingle Bells.” She says she didn’t expect to get much out of that line “and was surprised to see my husband smile, and pause for a moment to listen intently: “Actually that but is Jingle Bells–I never noticed that before. It’s a song about winter…makes sense.” Wait, how could he not hear that before???
And then, although she doesn’t really say when, Zadie has a Mitchell revelation and wonders “How it is possible to hate something so completely and then suddenly love it so unreasonably?”
What I like is that she admits half way through the article that she is talking about Blue and not some of her lesser known works. She claims to be a connoisseur of novels but not of music (she had never heard the Talking Heads). And then, as Zadie is wont to do, she goes seemingly off topic to talk about Kierkegaard and the “weird little novel” that opens Fear and Trembling. She ties the Biblical story of Abraham in to her appreciation of Joni Mitchell.
The end of the article is interesting as she discusses Mitchell’s abandonment of music and switch to painting. How artists are constantly evolving even though their fans want them to keep doing the same thing. This is a very common thing to hear but it’s interesting to hear it from someone as an artist and a fan.
I don’t know if this radically improves my appreciation for Joni, but it does for Zadie.