Craig Cummings Music

Joni Mitchell – Why She Matters To Songwriters, Part I
April 6, 2015, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , ,

Joni Mitchell was recently admitted to a hospital in California after being found unconscious in her home. News of this unfortunate incident spread like wildfire across the internet and beyond, and there have been numerous articles posted, new and old, on internet sites, in newspapers, magazines, and anywhere music and culture are discussed and debated. Most of the writing focuses on her influences on popular music, her relationships with other famous musicians, and her refusal to march to the beat of any drummer but her own.

I am a member of a songwriters’ group whose members discuss all things related to songwriting. Recently, someone asked for opinions about the best female singer-songwriter alive. While there was great debate about this, I was pleased to see so many of our group mention Joni as the best. Our group is large and we represent many generations of writers. It wasn’t just those of us over the age of 50 that were typing in her name. So this got me to thinking about why (and how) Joni matters to songwriters.

I decided to write a series of posts that look at Joni’s importance to popular music through a songwriters’ lens. What are the things that we try to do as successful songwriters, and how has Joni shown us the way. I’ll be using snippets of her lyrics to help me illustrate my points. There is so much to choose from, that I could write a book…but I’ll settle for a series of shorter blog posts. I’d love to read your thoughts on my thoughts – especially if you are a songwriter. But even if you aren’t, I’m betting you know a lot about Joni’s music and have a well-informed opinion. So, here is Part I. Let me know what you think.

Just before our love got lost you said
“I am as constant as a northern star”
And I said, “Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar”

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet

Joni Mitchell – from A Case Of You

Have you ever tried to decide which Joni Mitchell lyric is your favorite? Me too, except the more you try to narrow it down, the more options you consider. If you asked a random group of people familiar with Joni’s work to select their favorite song, I’m guessing a sizable number would pick A Case Of You, and I would be among that group. Much of the reason for this choice lies in the lyric, part of which is shared above. “…you’re in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter and so sweet.” Fourteen words that reveal how love can be equally wonderful and maddening. That one in love can feel, all at once, so ecstatic and so… conflicted.

Songwriters talk about needing just the right amount of “furniture” in the lyrics of a song to tell the story and make it real. “On the back of a cartoon coaster, in the blue TV screen light, I drew a map of Canada. Oh, Canada. With your face sketched on it twice.” I don’t even need to close my eyes to envision that scene. I’m sitting there with my lover in a bar, it’s dark, the TV lights the room. There is no conversation. I’m staring into the darkness of my glass, and she is drawing. I look over, see an outline drawing of my face. She loves me. I am smitten. It’s all there – every time I hear the song, the movie plays to my mind’s eye. This is what Joni can do. This is why she matters. She shows us how to put the furniture in the room.


Come back for Part II. I’ll be discussing how Joni reminds songwriters to be cool with facing long odds and committing to our craft.



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