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Rock 'n' Roll and the Apocalypse of the Heart

California Music and Personal Transformation of True Nature From Vulnerability to Artist Leading the Way:  Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words: Conversations with Malka Marom


Originally published 25 October 2014

[Note from On Being (2019): "They were desperate to take down that wall, in so many ways, as the documentary Both Sides Now: Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 demonstrates. Joni's realness in her Songs in that very moment will send chills through your body. She is the very Moment of change that through this Being even the institutions would be altered. Even in vulnerability, Joni's Being never wavers.It is more formidable than Ben Hur, far more powerful than armies. With an unshakable spirit she sings, 'We've got to get ourselves back to the Garden.' I made the mistake in writing about her several years ago by calling her a "leader," when what is much more accurate is a most stunning Being who can leave one most beautifully silenced."] 

Upon first seeing Joni Mitchell perform in a late night, almost empty coffee house in Toronto in November 1966, Malka Marom experienced what many artists know as the once-in-a-lifetime moment of unexpectedly stumbling upon the revelation of your own existence.  Inside this experience, up until that point what had been heavy and inexpressible to another human, is now the most meaningful, palpable, present and realest thing.  As what happened with Malka, it speaks a fluent, vibrant and deep language not previously known but immediately recognized.  A realness takes over that no one else can see but is complete recognition.  It is the explanation of the moments of your life leading up to it and now beyond.  It clarifies those things you have loved and that have spoken deeply to you.  It delivers to you your passion as a gift.   Surprisingly--as if it could be more exact--it occurs at the moment it is supposed to.  It is home to your senses and yet foreign to the sensibilities surrounding you.  You have entered a different realm, unplanned and dropped into a new world, your own life adventure begun and meant just for you.  Your upbringing has taught you not to equate it with a religious or spiritual or pivotal inner experience—you have not been warned of an awakening and how to follow its unknown and terrifying path. You're on your own.  There are only a few who would know exactly what just happened, but they are on their own paths.  There are a few who have brought back the radiance to tell you.  In what they say, they say, "It is real. Keep going."

In a society concerned with fast outcomes and quick returns not only an essence of a natural life- and culture-changing process is lost, but what is also subsequently lost is knowing where that process is still going.  What is more, it is assumed to not even be there.  It is invisible and what is invisible is deemed fantastical, even mad, and certainly not profitable (therefore perceived and treated as valueless).  But this real experience has just recognized your inner being—your heart and your mind and all your loves.  It has just enlivened you, connected its nature as part of your own nature with a clear and resounding, yes.  

Over the millennia the transformative experience inside ancient caves (also representative of that inner space) with paintings experienced in the tight spaces by dancing light from torch fire and that called one into his or her own powerful nature were lost. These experiences showed how to see: "This is what YOU are on the inside." Images as metaphors are necessary because words don't describe the inner realm of being, but can be an opening to its magic, colors and vastness.

. . . To fly towards a secret sky.  To cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.  First, to let go of life.  Finally, to take a step without feet."  Rumi

The focus in a capitalistic system is to choose a career path and make sure it makes money for security.   In other words, it is to align you with the system instead and it will take care of you and don't worry too much about what's on the inside, even if it's confusing and drives you hard to be something else, what you naturally are.  To ignore it, however, is to kill the spirit.  It is to block out another world that beckons.  It is to be frustrated and dishonest, even with one's own self, forever unrelentingly longing for that expression of what is on the inside; always feeling an unspoken need to align your world with it.   To be a true artist is almost unthinkable.  A dilemma occurs not just in the personal struggle, then, but also on the grander scale:  a culture's artistry takes on compliance also (suppressing all spirit) and is accepted and lauded so as long as it looks like what is valued and already understood, as long as it appears to be the image and makes money and the populace agrees with it—even fleetingly.  This unnaturally aligns art with the system.  Growth and transformation are stunted.  Then, the spirit of All still wants out. The universal nature, like the inner being, wants its nature recognized.  Its path, its course, can be seen building in its own expression through a cultural progression of music vividly articulated in the culminating continuum of American music.  Like images, music can express this realm of being as words, which are limited, cannot.  Music goes further.  Music gives you the experience.  The system, through its own awakening moment, has to be brought into alignment with true nature that can be expressed in artistic form.  

Music and movies have been our caves, but the artists are sometimes wrapped in their own bundled-up selves, still trying to work that through.  Woody Allen, for example, in the 1980s took audiences through intense trials of personal neuroses, a sign of the times, cultural inertia, bound up, not knowing the way to freedom. The point is to come out of the cave changed.

Ralph Waldo Emerson describes in his essay Self-Reliance what it means to come into alignment with one's true nature.  It is the process necessary to create something real, something where new wonders can be known.  There is indeed a magic inside of it.   Our time is one in which it is now imperative that artists come to know their own true natures.  

In a time when democracy and capitalism have been brought to such reach and power, it now lends itself to the need and recognition of what it means to be alive.  Like new trade routes did in Florence bringing to life the Renaissance, this lends itself to a culture where art can speak and go further.  A shift in consciousness also leads to a creative explosion as can be seen as far back as 30,000 years ago when Neanderthal became Cro-Magnon.¹  Expression naturally takes hold.

Without the artists, a culture goes without the experience and elucidation that beckons it into the wonder of being.  And so the struggle is a real one.  What is at stake is one's own existence along with powerful art leading a culture and touching humanity.  Artists must take that path in order to bring anything back.  It is how they find what is to be said and how to powerfully deliver that message.  What is also beautiful is when an artist takes you on the journey of becoming. Growth can be fought against, but the process itself cannot be avoided, only hard lessons learned or not learned.  Learning to go with it is when it becomes an adventure even with the trials.  What is exciting to know is that where some are arriving now is where they are discovering the radiance.  Cold chills is perhaps the best way to describe hearing the furtherance of what they are now be able to say, and how they are able to deliver it.  What a time we now live in!  

Outside of the cultural imagination is a place difficult to explain and is quickly and easily dismissed.  If one cannot see it, he or she does not know how to give place to it or value it.   When we speak of process we speak of what can be.  What becomes important is not the outcome, but the revelations of the dynamics of experience that cause one to be filled. There is an incredible knowing inside of it.  It is the essence of being and also of experiencing being alive.  There is a resultant deep joy within it, inherent within it.  It is how a music gets great, how it fills a room with immediate fulfillment, how an artist knows and experiences completeness.  It is often described as struggle—and it is an almost impossible struggle that includes intense loneliness--but it is also beauty, like gold, being refined. From this moment where the heart is opened and changed, something of great beauty begins its way into full articulation through the artist.  Even the hard parts enhance life and make it what it is.  It builds depth and things become real.  It is when things come into tune.  In turn, because it resonates with the artist, it will resonate and speak to an audience.  The transformative experience gets expressed.  Entertainment is one thing, but we are lacking in understanding of what truly has spiritual resonance, in what speaks to being human, that speaks to what and importantly, when and where we are.

That moment when the heart is seized is a beginning to when one is opened to the expansion. Inside of it are wonders to being that come about only in that inner realm when one is finally accepting of the journey inward where the old, childish world falls apart. Things on the outside noticeably align with the transformation—both for and radically against as guides. Keeping to the path means staying close to what is most true.  There is no longer ground beneath one's feet.  The inward being, consciousness, everything one knows, is tested in order to free it and take it further to a new level of recognition.  What you thought you were on the outside was left on the outside.  This is the place to come to know more and more what is real.  

It is a journey that will be almost impossible to describe to anyone who has not taken it.  It is not for everyone, only for those who find they must go, the call is such an intensity that nature's growth becomes knotted, a river off course until the adventure is accepted—alone.  It will be a rare few who take it.  The path is best expressed in the delivery of a creation.  That creation is then, without exception, powerful and alive.  The artist has crossed into the realm of being and come back with something real to say.   

For the female artist, this especially is where she will face off the inward battles of being defined on the outside and by the outside world who do not know her spirit or her qualities. Where women artists have found that the qualities they knew instinctively but that had little to no value in a market society,  will find they have immense value for a creative, changing society where resonance can  take on value as it becomes recognizable in her delivery of a newly defined being that is evidenced in her art.  It is in this artistic journey where the natural qualities of women come to be of great significance.  This is the path where true vulnerability becomes more and more a powerful voice that, without force, manipulation or exploitation, leads.

Importantly, these inward qualities, from the place where life is formed, become better understood and recognized.  A sensitive nature, a naturally intuitive spirit, a driving urge towards unity, to heal what is fragile, to strengthen what is real, to protect; an impulse towards caring about all alive things without exception and to see the wonder, beauty and delight are all qualities that come into more awareness and become priceless in expression.  

These are the sensitivities of the poet.  These qualities will find new value in the expanded realm combined to the male dominated equation where strength and valor have also won new freedoms.  This is the call for the feminine heroic and of the artistic to bring the change. 

When we talk of going inward, we talk of a place of great social significance across time.  The inward experience is symbolic of the ceremonial transformations inside of pyramids such as in Mexico's Teotihuacán, Native American ceremonial kivas, ancient caves, and European or Latin American cathedrals.  They point to the power of the inward experience.  A book such as Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words is also a look inside at the transformative journey of someone trying to understand and expressing that journey along the way.

The unfolding of what it takes to create and in that process expand one's own being--that expansion of the mind, spirit and practice of expression over time told here in the pages of Joni Mitchell In Her Own Words:  Conversations with Malka Marom begins with this life-changing tectonic shift of that powerful, unexpected moment and follows Malka and Joni in three interviews done in 1973, 1979 and in 2012, over the course of a forty year friendship.  Joni's honesty about the happenings, how it feels, how lonely it gets, what she was doing, what she was trying to understand, gives a portrait of the growth and progression that forms a deeply dynamic, timeless, universal art and person who has continually gone further.  The record of her words lays the ground for what it means to face the hard development and stay to the pain of it. Staying along with that crush of life is unavoidable because it is how to get to the center.  It allows the art to happen and to create something that speaks on its own at any time it is heard.  Over these years, Joni and Malka show how to find and create what is real and beautiful and that has a warmth and resonance that speaks to the marvel of what music expresses.  While the populace creates a system to determine only what has value in the passing moment (not realizing the other values), the source is brimming with life.  The process in these pages shows the difference between why some songs speak universally and others have a non-resonating reality to them, communicate briefly, and fade away.  Being in the crush clarifies what is real.  There is no faking the process or replicating the magic that has far-reaching effects beginning in the place and moment of its creation. The process's intricate nature reveals the heart of creating music and of bringing something powerful to life that also brings with it experience, delight and enjoyment.

It is important to note that even while male performers such as Bob Dylan, a revolutionary artist himself, were still accepted into the long-term establishment of music, there is still a realm operating what is outside the social imagination—mostly vividly apparent in the reception of female and artists of different races.  This realm outside of what is imagined of what can be is where artists must go. This is importantly signified in Joni Mitchell's life-long experience.  It is often said that Joni Mitchell does not receive the kind of recognition due her for her influence and stature in music, for example, as a voice of continual growth and change. This is because she is still operating outside that limit of what is known.  The system has made efforts to align her with it, for example, as in an invitation to emcee the Grammys, but there is clearly not a recognition of what she is, a person becoming.  She purposely forgoes events that want to applaud her for being famous but overlook what is important to her.  She states, "I was just never addicted to applause or honorariums.  The measure for me was the art itself . . . (148).  She continues:

I wouldn't get a thrill out of that, or try for a sense of victory.  It wouldn't work for me.  I'd rather they forget to applaud.  That they're so stunned, they're tranced in.  That would be more exciting to me than the biggest applause of the night.  Then I feel that I've accomplished something.  I'm not really a performing animal.  I don't have that need.  I prefer the creation of the song.  I like the collaborations, the camaraderie of players, and small clubs (148).

In the 2012 interview she states that she has never received an award that truly recognizes her work. Vividly all of this expresses that the experience is not seen here on either side—from the performer's viewpoint or from the audiences'—for all of its resonating potentiality that is clearly still experienced many times over.  The ritual of performance has lost some of its significance for her, perhaps due to her not finding her own true reflection in it—as most often females and artists do not.  It is a delivery system, after all, but it also harkens back in ways to the ancient ceremonies designed for experience and participation. Whatever the cultural definitions or social norms, these are still human beings communicating.  The delivery is also an articulation of the creation, giving it life.  The honesty of a performance still speaks and the heartbeats can and do match up. 

Inside that creation of the song is the ability to create something that stuns, not that that is a planned effect, but in the creation of depth, in that moment, within the expression of the individuals contributing, a resonance and fullness is building.  Whether examined by physics or by what is physically or spiritually experienced, the vibrations and effects of the moment are undeniable.   In our culture it is assumed that that is the extent of this resonating experience and it goes to market and is assumed that that's as far as that effect goes, and it fulfilled the market need.  Someone like Joni Mitchell, then, might in a way be dismissed as having been influential in the 1960s because she isn't currently working the market, when in fact, she has been going in all the decades since discovering and creating and relaying truths about the process.  Here is a woman who in her twenties in 1967 wrote the song, "Big Yellow Taxi" that still reverberates on many levels, perhaps even resounding further and more necessary now than it did then.  Here is an artist who in her seventies states, "I think I still have utility.  That's the only reason I'm still alive.  I feel like I've not totally fulfilled destiny, but according to my destiny pattern, I'm supposed to have spiritually attained" (165).

By looking at the process still in motion, it can be seen that what Joni was accomplishing begun in the 1960s is a revelation we are about to find in a shift from a progress-oriented culture to a transforming one.  Her existence signifies the direction of staying true to the process begun then and now still taking it further.  Remarkably, the market did indeed come into alignment with Bob Dylan, who refused—and still refuses--to align with its demands. The market still benefits and the true creation still gets delivered.  Now the task is for current artists to see where the process of creating can go.  Current artists have the benefit of both a populace and a strong system that desperately needs it and has the wealth and power to sustain a new, vibrant renaissance of the human spirit and that has the possibility of transitioning humanity.  

What Malka reveals with Joni demonstrates what is most important for artists, especially female artists, as it speaks to the impossibility of skipping the process still in motion and also to the infinite, effective beauty of what is being created which is not limited to music, but is full of new wonders and potentially alters life itself.  

In an interview with the Paris Review the renowned literary critic Harold Bloom spoke about how a culture turns to literature when all its "conceptual modes fail it."  This progression towards the literary and artistic expression has occurred throughout history and is evident in the booming intellectual culture of New York City since the 1950s.  In the 1960s, as literature had taken culture and individual artists into further reaches, it is a natural following that the culmination was then into music that came to life there in the Village in the 50s and 60s and radically spread across the United States into the flow of music to California where the human spirit was taking new freedoms to expand and speak.  This takes the depth of seeing what happened with the artists at this time in California and Joni's expression of these experiences, even until now, even more culturally pertinent, for that process is still key.  Joni says in her 1973 interview that "L.A. was the hotbed of all musical activity.  The greatest musicians in the world either live here or pass through here regularly.  I think that a lot of beautiful music came from it, and a lot of beautiful times came through that mutual understanding" (51). Artists there today are creating the furtherance of that development with an awareness of how to go further and, importantly, with a knowledge of and collaboration with what came before.  The process is still a becoming, as Joni's life and words illustrate, while also demonstrating that there is further to go.  Beautifully, the unfolding still includes these artists who were creating in the 1960s—and who are still creating now, and who also bring that necessary depth of ageless spirit, experience and vitality.  It is an astounding thought that what they began they can also see through to its fruition.    

It must be examined, however, how Joni's role is different than the males creating music in California.  Alongside them, her different reception by the structure shows that they don't know quite what to do with her.  The acceptance of her and the way she is valued is different.  Although it has been difficult to live through, being less valued and understood than male counterparts, this can be a great thing as it shows the direction where there is further to go, and in that, the real cultural shift that awaits. Coming to know her possibilities are an opening.  In that shift are real experiences that are provided by resonating art that will prove that what was being created in California can come to a culmination. Joni's progression as an artist and in staying true to that path from the artists' viewpoint demonstrate this.  Current artists have in many ways perfected the delivery of live shows.  If those creators of music bring the deep significance of creating something naturally powerful, the combination is indeed capable of a culmination of both intense artistic experience and dynamics of delivery.  The place where it comes from—the place inside where it originates and is formed—will be the deciding difference. Another facet of this is also a breathtaking thought: it brings with it hope.

What was born of the 1960s and 70s in Laurel Canyon and the surrounding areas is an opening to further understand the natural, powerful cultural role that music can be in shedding light on what it means to come to know and turn towards your own true nature, to come into an understanding of what it means to be in harmony with the entirety of the way things are, to know that it is a terrifying route to take (and in that is its transformative power), and that not many will understand or be able to see what you see in your deepest heart, deep enough where there truly is no doubt.  The way to get there is still in the process.  These are cultural needs that can be delivered by artists who take the path for themselves.  

What comes across in radical vibrancy foremost in Joni Mitchell's conversations is the excruciating vulnerability early on that is articulated not just in her words, but also in envisioning how she kept operating on a daily basis given the extremely painful, unrelenting circumstances when there was no hope.    It is a fragile being with nothing to hold on to—not even family support—and no promise of anywhere to go or any security for that day or the future.  Joni states,

If I'd been raising my daughter . . . 'Both Sides Now' was triggered by a broken heart, the loss of my child.  In this three-year period of childhood's end.  I'd come through such a rough, tormented period as a destitute, unwed mother.  It was like you killed somebody, in those times.  It was very, very difficult.  I ran into people behaving very cruelly, ugly.  I saw a lot of ugliness there.  They experimented on me in the hospital.  No one to protect me (25).  

Her focus is never on wanting to "be somebody."  At the time, the importance was on having something to say.  There are only hard answers.  To then find her struggling to book small shows on her own across different states in order to make money and to see that her focus is on an inner process wherein she is creating something that still resounds, universally speaks to the evolution of a human who will have something to say and who will also have a powerful (often unexplainable) effect.  The vulnerability—that intense openness—has the highest value because it signifies the acceptance of the necessary task of being expanded on the inside—that will very much become evident in the work and in the person.  Blossoming into a fuller being is a gorgeous, naturally stunning event to witness.  The circumstances surrounding Joni were at the time limitations.  What she shows is that inwardly there were no limitations but a willingness to grow to find her way through.  It required vulnerability to operate "along the sensitivity" of being formed into an amazing artist.  It is up to us to see her value and now where it can go.

Viewing this process, even as it is almost excruciating to witness the pain, is golden.  It is told not only by a female, but by a woman who is an American poet, composer, painter and an accomplished guitarist.  She was not only a part of a group struggle, but also a private one. In more ways than one, nothing less than true beauty was created.

In the opening pages Malka Marom describes the night she uncharacteristically drove around Toronto not able to go home and found the basement establishment.  Of the wonderful awakening moment and of the immediately recognizable depth of what Joni Mitchell was doing Malka writes:

The girl on stage also seemed to be in no hurry to do anything but tune and retune her guitar, tune and retune.  My cappuccino cup stood empty and still she kept turning the knob of one string, then another, this way and that way, a bit higher and just a bit lower—but with such intensity that, like a magnet, it drew you out of yourself.  She turned to face the empty seats and, leaning closer to the mike, she strummed a progression of chords with a surprisingly assertive hand.  They were unlike any chords I'd heard before.  I found myself hanging on every note.  And then she started to sing.  From verse to verse, her song was like a kaleidoscope that splintered my perception, turned it round and round, then refocused to illuminate a reality I had not dared to see (x).

Beautifully, Malka expresses a facet of the experience, that moment of her inner being recognized when she writes: "The stranger on stage knew me very well already."  The moment is filled with surprise and a deep sense of the wonder:

This girl, who looked no older than seventeen or eighteen—twenty at most—portrayed an existential reality with such power, it broke me down even as it lifted my spirits.  Whoever she was, her unique gifts generated an extraordinary elation inside me.  I applauded till my hands burned, but compared to how I felt, my applause sounded hollow" (xii).

A moment unlike any other, she writes, "My chest expanded from the sheer beauty of it."   

Malka goes on to describe some of her own experiences as a singer, especially as being looked down upon as being an entertainer and also in being considered not as knowledgeable as her male counterparts.  She writes, however, that Joni, "as an unwed mother, was subjected to extreme cruelty, abject poverty, and indignity much worse than I ever had to endure" (xviii).    What stands out through this is character that comes across in the music--an honesty, presence and truth in her music which makes it impossible to forget her voice singing "I've looked at love from both sides now."  It is a simple statement that resounds across an entire generation seeking answers in a hard and tumultuous time when the friends people had just known were arriving home in body bags.  In that time, nothing could be trusted—especially not institutions like the government and there was nothing on which to find foundation.  It was an intense push inward.  The terrifying feelings of uncertainty were compounded by there being little to no respect for what an individual needed during an extermination of a generation.  In this milieu it was extremely important, of course, for the artists to be as honest inwardly as possible and to have something important to say.  For a young female, then, to sit by herself on stage and give voice as close as she could get to the realness, including rising above the daily crushing realities, gives an important glimpse into the questions only music could answer and why Joni's presence and voice was coming powerfully through.  The human spirit needed her.  When Malka asks her how she kept going, asking, "What is it that gave you the confidence—way back when you were rejected—the confidence that you would succeed?"  Joni replies:

Oh God, I don't know.  I've never thought of that.  I guess the only thing was being witness to my own growth.  You know, I would suddenly see that, yes, the music was getting better, and the words were getting better.  Just my own sense of creative growth kept me going, I guess (35).

When looking in depth at what was happening inside that creativity, the draw is not simply to create a song as it would appear to audiences.  That package is the final delivery of the experience, as best as experience can be delivered, to its audience and this is actually at the end of the process.  Inside of the creative process a different kind of experience is accessed and the further it goes, the deeper the experience.  Malka writes about the rehearsals for Court and Spark writing, "Those rehearsals were bubbling with the elation and joy of artists who loved what they were creating, knew that it was truly great, and believed that it would resonate with whoever heard it" (xx).  This process is in taking a talent and in keeping with one's spiritual nature, following it out, sometimes unscripted.  The experience is one in which nature comes into accord with a new reality where everything is aligned and makes sense and blossoms and has promise and speaks.  This is the American heritage of music of which Joni was participating.  As one can see "planning a standard" would be adding a foreign impediment to the natural process of seeing where something goes.  In fact, the final package is surprising in itself.  Malka states, "I once asked Dylan when did he know that the work on a song is completed.  He said when it felt that he didn't write it.  That somebody else wrote it.  That it was outside of him already" (36).

In the course of the conversations, Joni makes important points about an alchemy, magic and an honesty in the lyrics.  Malka writes:

Joni's candour could be unsettling from the start, and it became even more so as she demanded of herself 'a deeper and greater honesty, and more revelation' in her work in order to affect listeners.  She wanted to 'strike against the very nerves of their life and, in order to do that, you have to strike against the very nerves of your own.'  Her fearless openness has been described as 'the secret to her impossible-to-bottle essence (Toronto Star)" (xxi).

Joni states, "I wanted to be a realist.  So I killed my fantasy head and I was unable to write fiction after that.  All I could write then was from personal experience" (38).  What is more is where the honesty begins to lead.  Staying along the nerve of what can be Joni tells Malka:

I even would be punished by circumstance if I didn't write from my own blood.  It was almost a divine or cultish thing that would happen if I wrote some things that were outside my experience—then it would descend on me eventually with a vengeance.  I talked to Bob about that and he said that he too had to be very careful not to write about things that he didn't experience (38).

In adding a layer to this, Joni later talks about her perceived image and reputation of being vulnerable.  She importantly places emphasis on the energy that was being created, an important part of the delivery process wherein she wanted to give the experience of a "spectrum . . . as opposed to locking into one facet"  when she says,

That's another thing that I have always struggled with in my personal life, as well as in my art form:  being stereotyped as a magic princess that I got earlier in my career.  You know, the sort of 'twinkle, twinkle little star' kind of attitude.  I didn't like that feeling when it was returning to me.  And no, I think that the band will only show that there's another side to the music.  I think that it's a good expansion (45).

In her 1973 interview with Malka, Joni describes a period of transition as "the year I burst into tears.  I cried all the time" (55).  She tells Malka, "I lost my daughter, I made a bad marriage.  I made a couple of bad relationships after that.  And then I got this illness—crying all the time . . . I felt . . . like my guts were on the outside.  I wrote Blue in that condition" (56-57).  Later, in discussing For the Roses Joni says, "There comes a point where you just kind of bleed onto the pages.  Many artists end up going there."

Of the importance of the transitional stage she says:

In other cultures, that would be called a shamanic conversion.  In this culture, it would be called a nervous breakdown.  Your nerves are on fire.  Since we're not a shamanic people, we don't realize the sharper senses are coming in.  I think it's the sixth sense, which is the coordination of all the other five; it comes from sharpening the five . . . It sharpened my vision, as a painter.  Sharpened my hearing as a musician.  Sharpened my sense of language.  Sharpened the speed of my eye.  I could see a fleeting expression on a face, like a thirty-third of a second.  And in that thirty-third of a second, a lot of times, much is revealed (58).

Throughout the interviews Joni expresses the realness happening within this creative space.  Later she says, "sensitivity is the setting sun, it's the gateway to the look-within place, it's the deepening place.  It's what depression is for.  It's to drive you in to face yourself and correct yourself." Later she continues, "You can't be deep without sensitivity.  And emotionality, God without the emotionality in the arts, it's merely intellectual . . . If you're trying to make a whole art, you really need all of those things" (63).

In all of this she returns to the center and says, "How does a person create a song?  A lot of it is being open, I think, to encounter, in a way, be in touch with the miraculous" (66).  And of getting captivated into the musical process:

 . . . it gradually takes shape, and that . . . that's also a magical process and sort of trance-like, takes total preoccupation with it.  But that comes easier to me than words do.  I think that you keep your writing muse alive as long as you're open so that experience seems amazing to you and things continue to be magical. the musical muse, in my particular case, is easier to keep alive, since it's abstract emotion.  It's feeling and it's the colours which transport certain feelings into you or out of you (71).

When Joni's insights and explanations are added to the other music being created in the place and time—in the midst of intense political turmoil and also in the rush of an awakening that was felt and was prevalent in the creation of music—new depths to the essentials of creating can be seen.  Inside the milieu of The Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield, Jim Morrison, the Eagles, James Taylor, Neil Young, and Crosby, Stills and Nash among others, the focus need not be on that it fell apart due to the harsh surroundings of its times, but that the observation can be that the fervent activity is still a precursor.   Within the intensity that brought it to expression, the path was still into creation, a process that has not changed.  Joni's words bring a different awareness that give essential insight into what was actually happening in American music:  a stepping across a prohibited line into the natural and spiritual states of being and wonder that art has always evoked.  That many of these artists are still creating also speaks to the powerful experience and the continuing process.  What stands out is that at this moment we have Joni Mitchell bringing attention to another bridge to be crossed.  The process remains the same and female artists are still the question.  Joni points out the direction of where the answers are to be found because she has spent a lifetime exploring it.  In her lyrics of "Woodstock" Joni writes, "We are stardust, we are golden / And we've got to get ourselves / Back to the garden."

In her interview in 2012 Joni talks about that current space of music and where it originates.  She talks about not sending out music that "didn't have that thing that makes your mouth fall open and makes you laugh when you hear two notes the way they butt up against each other."  She calls the musicians "alchemists" and says that,

Most of the music on the radio is not coming from that space . . . I wanted to create a certain kind of theatre, which comes from love . . . Love, it's a funny word to use.  It's like love means different things to different people.  It's like God (144).  

Joni's being female takes on a different significance in light of all of this.  This is the defining difference that inherently has the ability to take culture further.  Her experience is different and she is relaying that.  While she says she is judged for turning down events that would adulate her, for her it has felt that it isn't true to her being or what her journey has been.  In this, she has gone beyond even what Bob Dylan had to face.  What she offers, however, is not just a message of the feminine artistic path, but of a realm of existence that has always beckoned her and kept her trying to find its essence and core.  Our society tends to quickly find lures (like adulation) or socially prohibitive measures (like dismissal or the fear of being dismissed) to keep anyone from braving the step across that line into true nature. It is a process of coming into one's own and having the strength and fortitude to do it and the hope of which Joni has never been able to relinquish.  Essentially, it comes back to the delivery of an art that speaks in a way that she needs it to speak. Holding on to her hopes—what her soul tells her—then, is her path and is a profound thing to be realized.  Bob Dylan held on to his internal compass despite the circumstances and in this different way she holds on to hers—which tells her and those following her that there is a way to go further.  She is pointing the direction.

In 1979 Joni states, "This country hasn't really matured" (129).  For a person who has spent a lifetime pushing further towards knowing what and where we are, her honesty—for which she has always been known—can now point the way further.  Inside the creation process is the essence she has held on to—that which can inform and challenge and give  the spirit what is necessary to be alive and effective in that further realm and to come back on a broader and more resonate scale than is now imagined.  In talking about music it becomes beautifully simple.  Joni spoke in 1979 about what she had learned then:

Leonard Cohen was a teacher of mine.  Bob Dylan inspired us all.  Miles Davis taught me how to sing.  More and more I'm beginning to show what he taught me—pure straight tones holding straight lines.  The feeling when you sing and you open up your heart.  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.  That's the thing.  You can be so flashy and incredible, there's a certain beauty that comes out of that too, but not out of arrogance . . . warmth is not gonna come out of it, you know (128).

The delivery is what gets a different kind of internal reaction and creates different value and speaks in this different way to those listening and participating. What determines what those new values are comes to the artist who must be coming from a universal place and with different defining qualities that themselves have come to resonate. It is a hard won place that unexplainably communicates on many levels. Warmth, commitment to the art and beauty naturally exude from its life force. It is alive in this way. The effects are recognizable:  they move, stun and unify with a nature beyond the flesh, larger and more immediate than the self.  It is a delivery in which divisions are naturally dissolved.  Its talent gives presence to a broader, unexplainable force at work that carries from one person to the next.  It is how the boon, the hard-won radiance that was earned along the journey comes bursting through, luminous and alive.  It is how art truly traverses boundaries.

In her 2012 interview Joni quotes Hemingway as saying "For a true artist, each work should be a new beginning where she tries or he tries again for something that is beyond attainable." In describing what Joni can actually mean to a culture is searching to find the words for what is real inside of an awakening that enlivens the spirit. You know it when it changes you. The opening for that change is reliant on artists who are able to create the difference, take down the walls, and let the light come shining through.


1.  Describing Paleolithic rock paintings Joseph Campbell states, "an abrupt expansion of human consciousness occurred toward the close of the last glacial age . . . the earliest known works of visual art—both the rock paintings of the vast temple caves of the men's hunting ceremonials, and the numerous nude female figurines . . . suggest an evolutionary advance from the mentality of Neanderthal to that of Cro-Magnon Man (archaic to modern . . . ) is what unleashed this creative explosion.  Campbell, Joseph. Historical Atlas of World Mythology: Volume I: The Way of the Animal Powers, Part II Mythologies of the Great Hunt. “Art as a Revelation”. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Print. Page viii.

Works Cited

Mitchell, Joni, and Malka Marom. Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: ECW, 2014. Print.