Tag Archives: joni mitchell

Monday’s Watch, Listen, Read

Watch

I come from a dog-loving family. We’re all (more than a little) obsessed with our canines. Combine that with anything from the band OK Go (makers of one of my top five favorite videos) and you own a little slice of my heart. Behold:

Listen

‘We are stardust/we are golden”

I cannot intro my “Read” pick without first mentioning Joni Mitchell. In my mind, there’s a spiritual kinship between the two. I’m not able to imagine the life of one without hearing the haunting melody or twisting canyon-ed words of the other.

Read

“But there was the schoolgirl who used to be me.”

I first read Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem in ninth grade, when I had no idea what good writing actually was. I was at The Strand, killing time while waiting for someone or something, on a sunny, spring day. I remember following an older man around the store after seeing him pick up a book of Dorothy Parker’s poetry . I had read Parker in school and liked her work, so my 14-year-old self assumed this guy knew what he was doing when he entered a bookstore. He caught me following him shortly after. In an effort to hide myself, I grabbed a copy of a book on the nearest table and examined the back cover. The man called out to me, “Joan Didion. That’s a good one. Buy it now and you will appreciate it later.”

Reading Slouching Towards Bethlehem was my first time experiencing journalism beyond the ink-smudged pages of a newspaper. Didion’s writing startled and excited me. It was sharp and her tone in Slouching felt very specific to the 1960s. There was a brusqueness, or more so a matter-of-factness, to it that made me a little uneasy. Her essays transported me to places like Haight-Ashbury and introduced me to people such as Howard Hughes. Joan Didion wrote about what it was like to be young in New York and there I sat, young and in New York. I didn’t yet understand her feelings of a city growing old after living in it for eight years. I could not nor should I have understood it; it wasn’t my time to look back. My brain absorbed what I was reading, but couldn’t process it. Instead, I had enough foresight to store up words and dog ear pages for the moment my life and my experiences would one day catch up with these words.

I reread Slouching in college, confident I had grown up and could fully appreciate all it had to offer. From there, I moved on to The White Album, Play It As It Lays, Salvador, Political Fictions, Vintage Didion, Where I Was From, and The Year of Magical Thinking. But reading Didion’s nonfiction is like adjusting your eyes to the darkness, at first you can’t see anything, then slowly, shapes start to form and objects recognized. Finally, you can see everything in the moonlight almost as clearly as you can in the day.

I continue to reread these books every few years. As I do, more details become clear, there is more I understand and to which I relate. There are also more things that scare me and make me uneasy, because Didion tells the truth without the comforting veneer of metaphor. I suspect this is a pattern I will continue throughout my life. Rereading, understanding, relating. The very best books allow you to revisit them every few years and come away with new discoveries. An ongoing excavation. But with every reading, you still navigate those first chapters with your old map, tracing over surfaces, blowing away dust, until you begin the now familiar pattern of digging, deep and hard, into the ground; each time unearthing a new treasure to carry with you.

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Girls Like Us: Legends in Their Own Time

Everyone has a story about their introduction to the music of Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon, the music that not only defined a generation of women, but also the generations that came after. Our mothers played their records, revisiting their youth and taking a moment to view things from Both Sides, Now; tearing up when they talked about Joni Mitchell’s lyrics, humming “Natural Women” around the house or “Love of My Life” as they rocked us to sleep at night. My stories parallel those of many others my age. Carole King‘s voice had always felt familiar to me. I don’t recall the first time I heard her music or how I learned all of the lyrics to her Tapestry album, it simply feels intertwined with my molecules. Carly Simon‘s music and lyrics spilled into my ears through the movie soundtracks of the 80’s-90’s. Joni Mitchell‘s music came to me via a college dorm mate during our first week of freshman year. I heard “I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet …” Joni’s voice was unlike any other  I had ever heard. I don’t recall my dorm mate’s name, but I never forget Joni Mitchell’s. She became the soundtrack to four years of college.

I knew these women’s histories through their music, but I didn’t know about the lives they lived behind the music until I took a Women in Rock class in college. We started with Billie Holiday, The Boswell Sisters, and Ella Fitzgerald, and worked our way to The Shirelles, The Chantels, The Ronettes, and Carole King, Joni Mitchell & Carly Simon. The history of these musicians and their personal lives was fascinating. Every time I entered that classroom I felt excited and alive, as if the history of women in rock was unfolding right before my eyes.

That feeling was reawakened twice recently. First, when I read Sheila Weller’s “Girls Like Us” a definitive, beautifully written and meticulously researched account of the lives of Carole, Joni and Carly. And again this past Monday, when I went over to the Merkin Concert Hall, where Weller’s book was turned into a performance of Mitchell, King and Simon’s music by five Broadway singers: Liz Callaway (who also narrated the event), Ann Hampton Callaway, Jessica Molaskey, Capathia Jenkins, and Barbara Walsh (along with musical director Jeffrey Klitz, director Dan Foster, writer Sean Hartley, and John Pizzarelli on guitar). Weller was also on stage, reading passages from the book.

Between taking turns at the mike to singing some of the “Girls” greatest hits, each performer shared a story about how they discovered Simon, King and Mitchell’s music — Ann Hampton Callaway even got to co-write a song with Carole King. The group also came together on a few songs including a re-arrangement of “You’re So Vain” that deserves to be released as a single.

While each woman put their own signature on the music, they also had stand-out songs that not only showcased their voices, but revealed their very core. Sometimes it was unexpected, like Jessica Molaskey’s rendition of “Raised on Robbery” with her husband, John Pizzarelli’s amazing accompaniment on guitar. Molaskey’s interpretation of the song was funny and a slower (but still jazzy) version of Mitchell’s original tune. It was a little piece of brilliance. (Jessica Molaskey, if you happen to read this, please record that song, ASAP). Sometimes the rendition took your breath away, like when Barbara Walsh sang the combined “Song to a Seagull/Both Sides, Now.” Walsh’s performance of the songs was sublime. And sometimes it just knocked your socks off: like Capathia Jenkins version of “So Far Away,” which was one of those rare moments when you witness that what makes a song legendary is its ability to transcend the original artist/songwriter and truly belong to the performer. Similarly, Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway’s duet on “That’s the Way I Always Heard it Could Be” was divine. When you hear the interwoven voices of these sisters, there is no need for any accompaniment. Liz’s pure, strong soprano combined with Ann’s jazzy mezzo/alto was like witnessing the interplay of a violin and a cello. They share an instinct for song and sound that is without peer.

Though the vocal talent of the performers was evident, it was the music, the shared history that each performer found within her song, that made the evening magical. While Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and Carole King are three female music legends, they are also the poets who recorded the history of women in lyrics and measures, rhythms and records. They helped define who we are, who we raise and who we continue to become. But at the same time, they are still girls like us.