This week, an amazing collection of artists gathered for a two-night celebration her 75th birthday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Some were decades-old friends like Graham Nash and James Taylor, others were new acquaintances, such as Brandi Carlile and Norah Jones. Among the others who paid too tribute were: Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Rufus Wainwright, and Seal.
Mitchell wasn’t there, which is no surprise; she is seldom scene in public, especially since her recent health battles. She had a brain aneurysm in March 2015, but she was spotted backstage embracing Taylor at his Hollywood Bowl show in June.
Mitchell’s roots might have been in folk-rock but she evolved into jazz and pop too, ever inventive and inclusive. I saw her live only once, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in support of the now classic Court And Spark album in 1974. The tickets were a thoughtful gift from a new friend, Eric Douglas, son of Kirk Douglas (Eric died of a drug overdose in 2004). Our perfect seats, fifth row center, gave me a clear view of Mitchell, alone on stage but for a baby grand piano and her guitar, using her non-standard, guitar tuning. She has written songs in some 50 different “tunings”, which she has referred to as “Joni’s weird chords”.
Mitchell’s music has been present in my life for more than four decades. Like the greatest art, her songs evolved and changed, just as I evolved and changed. She is not a stereotypical Gay Icon, but Mitchell gives LGBTQ people, and all outsiders, the emotional sincerity of her songs, with scintillating storytelling and fragile poetry. She is deserving of all the tributes offered to her.
Unusual for any artist, but especially for a woman, Mitchell has served as the sole record producer on almost all her albums, including all her work in the 1970s. She has been responsible for her own album design and artwork throughout her career.
Mitchell has produced 19 studio albums, two live concert albums, and six compilations. I own them all. That’s right, I have a complete Joni Mitchell collection.
She has collaborated with a crazy list of artists, including: Willie Nelson, Billy Idol, Wendy and Lisa, Tom Petty, Don Henley and Peter Gabriel. Her songs have been covered by a diverse group of artists, including: Courtney Love, Judy Collins, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Aimee Mann, Björk, Caetano Veloso, Sufjan Stevens, Cassandra Wilson and Sarah McLachlan. Just take her famous composition Woodstock (1969); it has been recorded by at least 50 artists including Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Nazareth, and Eva Cassidy. A Case Of You (1971) is covered by Tori Amos, Jane Monheit, Diana Krall, James Blake and that late, great little Purple Paisley man.
Mitchell has received eight Grammy Awards during her career, the first in 1969 and the most recent in 2008. She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
In the book, Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words (2014), she is very open about her sadness and personal problems, plus the strings of failed love affairs, yet she ends the book by stating:
“I would not change anything. I would do it all over again.”