With the death of David Bowie last month, Twitter blew up with remembrances of the difference he had made in their lives with his music. Likewise, when Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots died, a similar social media memorial took place. Like mourners to a digital grave site, each time a musician dies, we come out to remember them in droves and leave our 140 character version of flowers.
Instead of waiting for such an occasion, I want to thank a musician who isn’t on Twitter, no longer performs, and lives a relatively quiet life now for making mine better. I hope she lives a long and healthy life, and I hope that she knows that her music is touching many.
This morning I spun around the room holding onto my nine-month old daughter, spinning her in my arms as she giggled and dancing to “All I Want” from Joni Mitchell’s Blue. We listened to the entire CD twice through; at just over thirty-five minutes long, I still had more singing I needed to do.
If you’ve never listened to Joni’s music, she’s folksy and confessional, sweet and sometimes wavery, and her guitar and piano accompaniment act as support for her lowest lows and encouragement for the highs. “River” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard” are moody numbers, as is the title track; many songs seem to harken her broken relationship with Graham Nash.
I, too, like the generation of women before me, took to Joni for break-up songs. The CD skipped while I listened to it; my daughter didn’t notice the blurred piano line, the blip in Joni’s voice. I realize I’ve owned this CD twice as long as I’ve been married and through every breakup that came before. I found the CD in high school, stumbled upon her music at a writing program (rest in peace, PA Governor’s School) and started taking in her albums as if the doctor had proscribed them. Once in the morning on the bus ride (with my 1st gen iPod) and once at night in my room (on my CD player). They weren’t counter-culture in the way most teens are. While most of my classmates in high school were singing “Drop it Like it’s Hot,” I hummed “This Flight Tonight” and realized that my friends had a higher tolerance for odd than most by having me around. Usually counter-culture is counter the culture of your parents, but when I started listening to Joni, my dad said something equivalent to, “Oh yeah, I have this CD here. I swear we listened to it when you were young.”
Maybe we did. And now I’m listening to it with my young daughter. Today, as we played on the floor with her jack-in-the-box and she squealed at me, I listened to “Little Green” a little differently. I remember hearing the song in high school and distinctly remembering biking to it around my neighborhood and to my boyfriend’s house. I remember looking for the color green while I heard it, noticing it more fully like one does when Spring is starting. Now, I get the song. I understand it. “Little Green” is about an unwed mother who gives up her daughter for adoption, a story that came out as nonfiction a few years ago. Joni’s motherhood and her loss is so raw in this song: “You’re sad and you’re sorry but you’re not ashamed./ Little Green, have a happy ending.”
Joni gave her daughter a better home by giving her up, and she gave her music to us to share with our daughters and sons. I’m not a super fan nor am I a Joni biographer nor am I lining up to buy her artwork, but I am grateful for the music that shaped me as a young woman and continues to make me feel better and make me feel free.