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Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell is the famous folk singer who had her first hits in the 1960's, and of whom the Grand American Patriot and Folk Singer Extraordinaire, Pete Seeger, said was proud to call Joni his friend. In his concerts Pete would often sing Joni's song "Both Sides Now" and add a verse of his own. At least ten of Joni's albums have sold a million copies, but ironically, it was Judy Collins who made "Both Sides Now" a top-40 hit (and won a Grammy). Sometimes on the Fount of All Knowledge, you might find the song attributed to Judy. Nope, it was Joni, and since the 1960's the song has been recorded by people as varied as Frank Sinatra and (get this) Leonard Nimoy. Well, we suppose Leonard had to do something after he recorded the unintentionally hilarious Ballad of Bilbo Baggins. People are still wondering what prompted Leonard to make the now classic video. It was not logical.

You can hear Joni's composition "Song to Aging Children" in the 1969 movie Alice's Restaurant, a surprisingly successful movie which was the next movie directed by Arthur Penn following his unexpected hit Bonnie and Clyde. The song is, we must admit, in one of the less cheerful scenes in a movie, which far from showing happy carefree flower children living in peace, love, and harmony, is actually kind of a downer.

Pete also appears in the movie (playing himself) and sings a couple of songs by Woody Guthrie. When Pete's scene comes on, he is visiting Woody in the hospital where Woody had been confined due to Huntington's disease. Pete is singing Pastures of Plenty when Arlo comes in, and then he and Arlo sing "The Car Song", which is one of Woody's best.

[A couple of bits of semi-related esoteric trivia. First, the part of Ray Brock - who with his wife Alice owned both the church "where the pews used to bein'" and the restaurant - was played by James Broderick, the father of famed actor Matthew Broderick. A second bit of trivia is that James also starred in what has to be one of the world's most forgotten plays, the title being something like "Stars in their Eyes". The current writer knows about the play only because he actually saw it performed in Houston, Texas, ca. 1972. The few things he remembers is that the play was written by an advertising copywriter, the plot had something to do with Christmas, and that the playbill mentioned that James, the actor playing the lead male role, had played Ray in Alice's Restuarant.]

The discourteous will maintain with an audible sniff that the music of Joni, Judy, and their 1960's contemporaries was not "real" folk music. Instead they say it is - to quote a well-known author - a "syrupy cul-de-sac" called (ptui) "folk rock". Others with even greater discourtesy will point out that this genre ultimately sunk to the lowest depths possible in that it ended up in the bins of the record stores (when they existed) devoted to - and even now is broadcast on radio stations specializing in - (augh!) "Easy Listening".

Au contraire say the folk aficionados. Folk music is music that goes into oral circulation - or in today's equivalency - is sung so much that people forget who wrote it. Joni not only wrote Both Sides Now but also the popular song Woodstock that many people ascribe (incorrectly) as a composition by Crosby, Stills, and/or Nash. Eins mehr, the song was by Joni.