Saturday, 12 October 2013

Like a Black Crow Flying in a Blue Sky

Joni Mitchell must like the word Blue. Throughout her early albums, the word appears (as a colour or a concept, blue or blues) with extraordinary frequency.

On Clouds (1969) there is a song, ‘Roses Blue;’ Ladies of the Canyon (1970) has ‘Blue Boy;’ For the Roses (1972) another song, ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire;’ and on Hejira (1976) there is ‘Furry Sings the Blues,’ and ‘Blue Motel Room’ – not to mention that ominous Black Crow.

But I have missed out one crucial album. Many fans consider Blue (1971) to be her masterpiece, although others would argue that the more cerebral album, The Hissing of Summer Lawns better deserves the accolade. Blue is an intimate album, not least in its pared-down style, minimal instrumentation and close-miked vocals.

The four songs with piano accompaniment alone, when played back-to-back, make a pretty depressing set. In the more up-beat ‘My Old Man’ the lonesome blues collide; a bluesy rendition of Jingle Bells is the basis of ‘River,’ and a nihilistic dark cocoon ends the album, and the song, ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard.

The intimate lyrics convey an artist’s vulnerability in a way that became a blueprint in the canon of confessional female, singer-songwriting. At the time, Melody Maker described it as ‘vicarious heartache,’ and Joni later described herself as being ‘like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes.’

The word ‘blue’ appears some 15 times over seven songs.

For Joni, ‘blue’ is deeper than mere melancholy, or mawkish autobiography; it’s a condition to which we all relate. She says, ‘If I sing in the first-person, they think it’s all about me, but many of the characters I write about … have nothing to do with my own life in the intimate sense.’ As we know, art is a lie, an artifice.

I’m often keen to claim or emphasise that my own writing, especially poetry, is not autobiographical, although I draw heavily from everything I experience around me. To describe the 10th poem of this year’s sequence as ‘a personal response’ suggests exactly that.

The 'truth' is in the possession of the beholder.

Twelve Tones of Blue


Recalling the heartfelt yet emotionally intelligent naïveté of the album, as a personal reaction and interpretation, the poet journeys through each of the ten songs of Joni’s Blue.

Canto X



All I Want

You wanted a world –

I gave you a life:

The blood poured free,



My Old Man

You wanted a ring

to bind us true;

I played a warm chord,



Little Green

The child pretending

was lost to you;

Imagined spring turned




You ran away: laughed

with the bright red devil

as the moon appeared




I sang you to sleep;

you sank deep into a

fuggy, drug-induced





In dreams your shadow

yearned for home:

calling ergo ego



This Flight Tonight

Flying from the myth:

Regret, the deadliest sin,

Turned envy-green




You cried a river

of frozen tears to

skate away into



A Case of You


Drawn to my escape

I poured out my soul,

bled the bitterness



The Last Time I Saw Richard


The empty tomb,

the dark cocoon,

the jewel you lost.