all sparkly and shit

Life Lessons from Lyrics- Vol. 5

In deciding what to write for my next post, I was mulling over doing another lyrics piece, but I couldn’t think of anyone.  ‘I mean, there’s Joni, but I’ve already *done* that.’  Stuck for ideas, I looked at my other LLFL posts, and HOLY SHIT – I HAVE NEVER PAID HOMAGE TO MY GODDESS JONI MITCHELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Joni Mitchell

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS: Joni Mitchell posed in Amsterdam, Netherlands in 1972 (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)

So, here it is.  P.S. JONI + TARA 4E&E.


There was a time when I was a young’un, fresh faced and full of dreams and doubts set loose in the possibility and promise that is New York City.  At that same time, I had a *very serious boyfriend*, but hadn’t really ever been single since sophomore year of high school.  You can see where this is headed, I’m sure.  Long story short, I dumped a lovely boy like the selfish asshole I was, looking for ‘romance’ and ‘adventure’ in the big city, and I got a heaping plateful of creeps, douchebags, and a generally nightmarish assortment of humans.  I was also absolutely ignoring my fears of commitment, compromise, marriage, of being controlled, etc etc etc.  Enter this song, Cactus Tree, from the album Song to a Seagull:

There’s a lady in the city
And she thinks she loves them all
There’s the one who’s thinking of her
There’s the one who sometimes calls
There’s the one who writes her letters
With his facts and figures scrawl
She has brought them to her senses
They have laughed inside her laughter
Now she rallies her defenses
For she fears that one will ask her
For eternity
And she’s so busy being free

There’s a man who sends her medals
He is bleeding from the war
There’s a jouster and a jester
And a man who owns a store
There’s a drummer and a dreamer
And you know there may be more
She will love them when she sees them
They will lose her if they follow
And she only means to please them
And her heart is full and hollow
Like a cactus tree
While she’s so busy being free


I mean, rip out my heart and tell me who I am and what I’m doing wrong, whydoncha, Joni?!  Ridiculous.  Speaking of Joni knowing my (our) soul, at the end of The Last Time I Saw Richard from her iconic album Blue,


there is a passage that told my story, bleak as it was, in those in-flux years between musical theater and songwriting.  Waiting tables, bartending, drinking to make the hours pass and to forget that the man I loved was so very far away, sleeping too much and singing too little… it was a necessary but unhappy time, and Joni puts it so beautifully:

I’m gonna blow this damn candle out
I don’t want nobody comin’ over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase, these dark cafe days

Happily, they really were only a phase.  There are some good memories sprinkled in there, though, and I personally think that everyone should have some dark cafe days in their lives.  Builds character.  I sound like my dad.  Anyway.


Real talk, it is so difficult for me to decide between songs & passages within the songs that I feel like I’m missing a ton, but I would be remiss if I skipped Woman of Heart and Mind, from the album For The Roses.  The whole thing is transcendentally beautiful and chock full of truth, but the following passage always struck me as so specifically necessary for people to hear.

You criticize and you flatter
You imitate the best
And the rest you memorize
You know the times you impress me most
Are the times when you don’t try
When you don’t even try

You are enough.  Just you, being you, is what the world needs the most.  In her words, of course, it’s so much better.  Just as the movie I was named after, Gone With The Wind, is when it gets a similar treatment in Shades of Scarlet Conquering from The Hissing of Summer Lawns,


in which Joni somehow turns the decidedly unlikeable Scarlett O’Hara into a decidedly relatable early feminist just fighting to be heard in a man’s world.

Friends have told her ‘not so proud’
Neighbors trying to sleep and yelling ‘not so loud’
Lovers in anger ‘block of ice’
Harder and harder just to be nice
Given in the night to dark dreams
From the dark things she feels
She covers her eyes in the x-rated scenes
Running from the reels

Beauty and madness to be praised
‘Cause it is not easy to be brave
To walk around in so much need
To carry the weight of all that greed
Dressed in stolen clothes she stands
Cast iron and frail
With her impossibly gentle hands
And her blood-red fingernails

Out of the fire and still smoldering
She says “A woman must have everything”

I saw Scarlett in a completely different way after hearing this song the first time, because I never really thought about the fact that it wasn’t really possible to be ‘kind of’ feminist in those days.  If you were going to play the role of the outlier, you were choosing to be cast out, called unlikeable, unlovable, shrill, demanding, untrustworthy, judgmental… Oh, wait.  Hillary Clinton is still getting called all of these things today, 80 years later. *sigh*


And we have arrived.  This has to be my favorite album of hers, although deciding is sort of a Sophie’s Choice for me.  It has to be Hejira, though, because not only are the lyrics just jaw-dropping, but the music that accompanies them is as well.  I wouldn’t change a note, and there *very* few other albums I could say that about.  Take the title track, Hejira, with its flawless bon mots, its genius bass parts by the one and only Jaco Pastorius, its nuggets of staggeringly, obnoxiously (to me, but I’m just jealous I guess) gorgeous truths.

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

Life and death, humanity and spirituality, per Joni.

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 I’m 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

*rendered speechless*

Or how about her take on love and loneliness in Song for Sharon?

I can keep my cool at poker
But I’m a fool when love’s at stake
Because I can’t conceal emotion
What I’m feeling’s always written on my face
There’s a gypsy down on Bleecker Street
I went in to see her as a kind of joke
And she lit a candle for my love luck
And eighteen bucks went up in smoke

Sharon I left my man
At a North Dakota junction
And I came out to the “Big Apple” here
To face the dream’s malfunction
Love’s a repetitious danger
You’d think I’d be accustomed to
Well I do accept the changes
At least better than I used to do

Dora says “Have children”
Mama and Betsy say “Find yourself a charity
Help the needy and the crippled or put some time into Ecology”
Well there’s a wide wide world of noble causes
And lovely landscapes to discover
But all I really want to do right now
Is find another lover

Sharon you’ve got a husband
And a family and a farm
I’ve got the apple of temptation
And a diamond snake around my arm
But you still have your music
And I’ve still got my eyes on the land and the sky
You sing for your friends and your family
I’ll walk green pastures by and by

The choice between children and career, of self and selflessness, is a decidedly female struggle, and she puts it perfectly.  Because you have to choose, and both she and Sharon do, but of course both of them look at the other with envy.  Because no matter which way one goes, the other path lies untread and full what ‘what-night-have-been’s.  The city, with its music and dreams, or the country, filled with love and family?  You’ll always be ‘half’, no matter which way you go, and Joni paints that picture perfectly.


But no matter how dark or introspective her lyrics can get, they can just as well bring light to the simplest, most joyous moments of life, like when you look over at your partner one average day and feel like a Lucky Girl (from Dog Eat Dog).

You’re my lucky star
You’re my magician
You make the night prowling disappear
Vanished from the star war bars
Empty repetition
I get my heart full here
Stray boys
And “Say, hey, hey” boys’ll
treat you like a toy
I never loved a man I trusted
as far as I could pitch my shoe
til I loved you

Woman beaters
and Huck Finn shuckster
hopping parking meters
I never loved a man
I trusted
as far as I could pitch my shoe
’til I loved you

She can write it all.  I could go on and on and on and on, and you should – if you haven’t dived into the sea of her amazing works, please PLEASE please do.

I can’t end this post without putting out into the world one more time that this woman is my role model, my idol, my inspiration, my goddess.  Thank you, Joni, for helping me grow up, for driving me to write lyrics, for giving me the words to a million feelings and phases I’ve faced and am yet to discover.  Thank you, Joni.  Just thank you.




This entry was published on March 28, 2016 at 4:54 pm. It’s filed under Feeeeeeeeelings, Randomz and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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