To illustrate the madness of Joni Mitchell, perhaps a diagram would be most illuminating. This is my carefully rendered visual representation of the first line of the brilliant ‘My Old Man’.
Yes, I know. Musical sense and structure do exist, but I don’t think Joni ever came across them.
I mention this only because I’ve been working my way through Joanna Newsom’s two-hour album Have One On Me this week, and my first thought was that Ms Newsom makes Ms Mitchell look robustly sane. There’s something about those freewheeling melodies and randomly placed chords that completely defies expectation. Wherever you think the line may be going, you can bet it isn’t going there. It can be jarring at first, especially as her lilting, distinctive voice takes some getting used to, but the effort is well worth it. Most of the songs are emotional, heartfelt and incredibly beautiful, primarily concerned with falling in and out of love. Others seem too odd to hang together at first, but open up into sheer loveliness later on.
The nicest surprise was the lyrics booklet in the CD case: I sat and read it in the car like a volume of poetry, because it almost is. Take the achingly poignant ‘Does Not Suffice’, which closes the album:
It does not suffice
for you to say you hate to see me sad
because of you.
It does not suffice,
to merely lie beside each other,
as those who love each other do.
I picture you, rising up in the morning:
stretching out on your boundless bed,
beating a clear path to the shower,
scouring yourself red.
The tap of hangers,
swaying in the closet –
and empty drawers –
and everywhere I tried to love you
is yours again
and only yours.
Newsom might be an acquired taste, but I didn’t regret the time I spent acquiring.
A postscript: my very favourite verse from my favourite Joni Mitchell song, ‘A Case of You’, is as follows:
I remember that time you told me
you said: ‘Love is touching souls’.
Surely you’ve touched mine –
’cause part of you pours out of me
in these lines
from time to time.
Very true, Joni. Very true.