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Happy birthday, Joni Mitchell!

| November 7, 2014 | 4 Comments

November 7, 1943 gave the world one of the most influential singer-songwriters of the 20th Century when Roberta Joan Anderson was born in Alberta, Canada. A few years later her family moved to the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where she attended public schools and lucked out in having what she called “one radical teacher who drew out my poetry.” She remembers writing a poem for class that used phrases such as “White as newly fallen snow” and “High upon a silver shadowed hill.” The paper was returned to her marked in red circles, and a note of advice from the teacher: “Write about what you know, it’s more interesting.”  And that was the beginning of the soul-baring style of writing that would leave listeners stunned with emotion and influence her peers as well as scores of songwriters who came after her.

One of these confessional songs that took on a whole new meaning decades after we first heard it is “Little Green,” a song written in 1967 and revised when recorded for Blue.  The world didn’t know that Joni had given birth to a child in 1965—a daughter named Kelly Dale Anderson. Or Kelly, as in kelly green. Try to read these lyrics or watch the live performance of her in 1967 without feeling moved to tears over the weight and loss this then 24-year-old was carrying.

Child with a child pretending
Weary of lies you are sending home
So you sign all the papers in the family name
You’re sad and you’re sorry, but you’re not ashamed
Little green, have a happy ending

In 1997, Joni and her daughter, now Kilauren Gibb, were reunited. The incredible journey is a beautiful story of hope and redemption, longing and completion. “I’ve had pain and joy in my life, but nothing like this,” Mitchell said. “It’s an unparalleled emotional feeling.”

One of Joni’s best known songs is “Both Sides Now,” written in 1967 and recorded on her 1969 album Clouds. In a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell recalled: “I was reading Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King on a plane and early in the book Henderson the Rain King is also up in a plane. He’s on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. I put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and I immediately started writing the song. I had no idea that the song would become as popular as it did.”

On her birthday I thought it would be perfect to see this version of a song written when she was 24, and sung in a performance 33 years later. The hopeful, almost light lyrics of wonder, now sung in a voice deepened by a lifetime of cigarettes and rich with experience and acceptance. Happy birthday, Joni—we’re so grateful for the music you’ve given us.

Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say “I love you” right out loud,
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads,
They say I’ve changed.
Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.

Photo of Joni in windowsill by Henry Diltz, 1970

Category: In Case You Haven't Heard

Comments (4)

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  1. Sally (Roberta) Rose says:

    Joni was, for me, a spiritual guide of sorts: I listened to her spell-binding music and lyrics for hours on end. It amazed me, even then, that such a young woman could write with such insight and vision of life! To this day I weep upon hearing her heart-felt lyrics: how did she get so wise so young? We are so fortunate that she graced our lives with her talents–a gifted angel.
    Happy 2015, Joni!

  2. Happy Birthday Joni, even if it’s a bit late. I feel so fortunate to have grown up in a time where your music was so prevalent. You are truly a gift for all peoples through your music. Remember taking a new copy of “Court and Spark” to that party and being so rightly proud of your work, only to have others there wanting to hear “Blood on the Tracks”?
    Wonder what they’re thinking now?
    You have too many great songs to list, so thank you for all of them.
    You’re the best!

  3. Nicola Ullder says:

    I too have always loved Joni Mitchell for her music and her art, she particularly inspired me while at Art College in the late 1980’s. On the subject of getting that close, while working in a designer clothes shop in Chelsea around 1993 who should walk through the door, but Joni! I thought I was dreaming, I was so awe struck I couldn’t bring myself to say what I felt..I was only 24 at the time, now twenty years later it makes me want to cry that I had an opportunity to express my appreciation. She was a vision in an olive green trouser suit, graceful and tall..she made no fuss, just had a look and went on her way. It was my regret too that there was no one else to witness the event, it was just Joni and me in that shop and so there you go..maybe I was right to do that as she did with Georgia O’Keefe..albeit a wonderful memory for me. Happy Birthday 2013 Joni xx

  4. sharon gerber says:

    Have ALWAYS loved Joni Mitchell’s songs..the ’70s in Austin…the ’80s in New Mexico. One of my favorite things she said was of a time she went to find Georgia O’Keefe’s home. (Someone Joni was in awe of, as we are HER~!) While driving up the mountain-desert road, Joni saw O’Keefe out in her yard, watching her. If I remember correctly, Joni said she knew what she, herself, would feel like if someone just drove up to her own house…so she turned around & left. :o Ohhh~ to get that close to someone whose work you so admire, then not get to say “hello”! I totally admire the act, but I’m thinking Georgia would’ve loved to meet Joni & fix her a cup of pinon coffee…maybe even painted a picture of her! hmmm..I might paint a picture of Georgia painting Joni at the Ghost Ranch! Just a happy bday thought~!

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