Craig Cummings Music

Joni Mitchell – Why She Matters To Songwriters, Part II
April 7, 2015, 9:59 am
Filed under: Musical Notes | Tags: , , ,

Craig at El Nopalito_rev


Yesterday, in Part I of this series, I talked about how songwriters need to include just the right amount of “furniture” in the lyrics of a song to tell the story and make it real…furniture meaning details that allow the song to come alive for the listener. Today in Part II, I’m discussing how Joni speaks to songwriters through her lyrics about commitment and courage.

You’ve got to shake your fists at lightning now
You’ve got to roar like forest fire
You’ve got to spread your light like blazes
All across the sky
They’re going to aim the hoses on you
Show ’em you won’t expire
Not till you burn up every passion
Not even when you die
Come on now
You’ve got to try
If you’re feeling contempt
Well then you tell it
If you’re tired of the silent night
Jesus well then you yell it
Condemned to wires and hammers
Strike every chord that you feel
That broken trees
And elephant ivories conceal

Joni Mitchell – from Judgment Of The Moon And Stars

Another of my favorite Joni lyrics, from one of my favorite Joni albums (For The Roses), this particular lyric speaks to the part of us that needs to show the world that we won’t quit – that despite the odds being against us, we can persevere. “They’re going to aim the hoses on you, show ‘em you won’t expire. Not till you burn up every passion, not even when you die.” This line is a mantra for songwriters, who often toil for years, honing their craft, and never knowing if anyone outside of their closest circle of friends and fellow songwriters will ever hear the words and melodies they’ve written. And, the feeling of not backing down, of not giving up, is amplified by the associated imagery of the hoses that were aimed at civil rights protestors in the 1960s (this is not to say the challenges of the civil rights protestors and the challenges faced by songwriters are even remotely equal – they are not). For those looking for inspiration and the courage to carry on with their life’s work despite the odds, there is plenty of inspiration within the words of this song.

“Condemned to wires and hammers.” We songwriters, we’re condemned to our instruments – to our words, but in a good way. We’ll never escape them or give them up…but we’re OK with that, because we wouldn’t have it any other way. Joni matters to songwriters because she reminds us that challenging the odds and being committed to our craft are worthy endeavors. When we’re “feeling contempt” we can tell it. No need to feel guilty for committing to this life…for striking “every chord that [we] feel.”

Part III of this series will discuss how songwriters strive for economy with words and how Joni shows they way in some of her work.



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