When I was in cancer treatment, a new and generous friend made a gift of Mitchell’s newly released, fascinatingly curated 4 CD box-set Love Has Many Faces (2014). Sitting up in bed, not feeling well at all, each listening was a fresh experience and a feeling of comfort, like meeting with an old friend. While making my way through the four discs, songs that I had heard many times but hadn’t really responded to, suddenly brought on a surprising significance. Mitchell’s folk music beginnings and her use of traditional instruments, plus her clear, high singing voice, had once made me think of her songs as pure or naïve. But all alone, listening closely, I heard them as more cynical, offering an unflinching examination of the difficulties of relationships while retaining a sort of sincerity and even a bit of optimism.
Mitchell’s roots might have been in Folk and Rock but she evolved into Jazz and Pop too, ever inventive and inclusive. I saw her live only once, at Los Angeles’ 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 refers to as ”Joni’s weird chords”.
Mitchell’s music has been ever-present in my life for more than four decades. Like the greatest art, her music evolved and changed, just as I have 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 as a truly great songwriter and singer.