Treasure Hunt: I'm Coming Home

(For Lynnie)

Genius may be as mindstopping as loss, but in a different way.

When Maud was about eleven or twelve, and we were living in a railroad apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with Bodhi and Scout, I sat her down at the table and said it’s time for you to hear this: Blue. I can’t remember, exactly, but I think the only thing I had to play the album on was a Discman. She sat there, my little Maud, and listened to the whole thing through, and she got it. She just got it: the simple genius that changes you upon hearing.

California, coming home.

20 thoughts on “Treasure Hunt: I'm Coming Home”

  1. no no, I think she totally means the fuzz in the sunset district in San Francisco. where the golden gate park meets a quiet neighborhood, just beyond the haight ..

  2. totally a cop reference. i spent my entire second year of college obsessed with joni mitchell. until i moved on to ani difranco. all the while i burned lots of incense and composed syrupy journal entries by the light of the moon. it made me feel very special at the time, but looking back i understand it all to be wildly unoriginal.
    the song “green” is about the baby she put up for adoption as a teenager.
    jack in “people’s parties” (from court and spark) is jack nicholson.
    the character estrella from “ladies of the canyon” was actually the girlfriend of my first boyfriend’s father at the time she wrote it. estrella was one of joni’s back up singers, and an amazing songwriter in her own right…but just never “made it”. in the song, joni refers to estrella’s songs as “tiny hammers hurled at beveled windows in empty halls”
    i always thought that was beautiful. if i wrote songs, i’d want them to be described that way.

  3. oh, AND…
    i adore the evolution of joni mitchell. the first half of her career she was sopranic and ethereal and soft. the second half, she’d cut a bitch.
    in interview after interview she disses all of her musical peers as less talented writers and less proficient musicians than herself. she barely deigns bob dylan with an eye roll. god, i love her.

  4. Oh, my God, Christy. I love that about Estrella and about Jack Nicholson! I never knew that! I’ve been a complete Joni Mitchell freak since I was in…the eighth grade. And even now, when I listen to her, I think—”I need to tell someone to play Joni when I’m lying in the hospital, dying.” (That is, if I’m not hit by a meteor, first.)

    OK, here’s one: Refuge of the Roads is about Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who she spent a little time with.

    I met a friend of spirit
    He drank and womanized
    And I sat before his sanity
    I was holding back from crying
    He saw my complications
    And he mirrored me back simplified
    And we laughed how our perfection
    Would always be denied
    “Heart and humor and humility”
    He said “Will lighten up your heavy load”
    I left him for the refuge of the roads

  5. i adore that song. i had no idea who it was in reference to.

    if i could teleport you to my apartment right now, i would. were i to while away the entire night doing nothing but quoting joni mitchell lyrics with someone, it would be the most productive, non-wasteful, time i’ve spent all year.

    how about “woman of heart and mind” from “for the roses’


    and river. such melancholy.

    “hissing of summer lawns” is not my favorite album but IS my favorite album TITLE ever. the letter “s” everywhere. four words that, said in sequence, feel like one long kiss.

    also love the later recording, “night ride home”…
    and the audacity of the record with charles mingus…
    good god.

    you’ve totally made my day with this post. lately i’ve been devoting most of my mental energy to slowly and methodically killing my manager. its so so much more pleasant to think obsessively of joni. i’ve almost forgotten that little bastard. almost.

    final memory:
    saw her interviewed on charlie rose a couple of years ago. he asked her about her first job and she said something to the effect of, “well, i started smoking at nine, and my allowance wasn’t enough for cigarettes. so, i started doing little jobs that would get me the money i needed to smoke. come to think of it, pretty much every job i’ve ever had has been to support my tobacco habit.”
    i’ve said it too much, but i love her.

  6. For the Roses is my second favorite album after Blue. Aren’t all those songs about James Taylor? I wrote about my boyfriend, Geoff? The guy who used to leave in the morning to go pump gas? Our whole relationship started around For the Roses–we were friends, and we’d sit in my room listening to it.

    River. My favorite. Did you see the episode of Allie McBeal when Robert Downey, Jr. plays it on the piano and sings it? If not, we HAVE to find it for you.

    I like the newer stuff. I love Heijira, etc. That’s amazing about the cigarettes. And cigarettes, alas, have destroyed our Joni’s range. Such a bummer.

    I know about your pissy manager. And your hot place of employment. I’m so sorry. Get your headphones out!

  7. ugh. heijjira. i’d almost forgotten the beauty that is heijira.

    i should agree about the cigarettes, but something about her total lack of apology over that indiscretion charms me to no end.

    i just got back from dinner with lynn, and on my walk home i remembered my favorite joni story. i hope i get the details right. so.

    way back when, peter fonda hosted this party in l.a.
    maybe even laurel canyon.
    one of his friends in attendance was this well known radio deejay in southern california who’d brought along his new girlfriend. she was a songwriter and in the process of recording a record. this guy had been raving to everyone about how great she was. but, you know, sex can cast an inobjective glow on things….so, who knew if she was actually talented or not. well, this guy has everyone gather around and sit down because he wants his girlfriend to play for them. she descends this staircase, dressed all in white, holding her guitar, and without saying a word proceeds to play every single song from what would become the blue album.
    peter fonda claims it was so spellbinding that when blue was finally released, he immediately bought it and put it on his record player…where it remained for years, not once removed.

  8. Is that true? How do you know that? That’s an amazing story. Uch, it makes me so jealous. Imagine.

    So here’s a question. I always imagined that the canyon in Ladies of the Canyon was Topanga, not Laurel. Was it Laurel?

    I was thinking about this: That I used to work for Sydney Pollack, the film director, and one of the things that he and I liked to talk about was music (on our separate commutes to the Universal lot, we’d listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic on the radio, and then gush about the various tunes when we got to work). Anyway, I amazed to learn that Sydney, being of another generation, knew nothing about Joni Mitchell, and had never heard of Blue. So I went out and bought him the CD, and was super excited to give it to him.

    But another person who worked for Sydney, who shall remain nameless, got to the CD before Sydney could take it home. She was higher on the food chain than I was, and I always felt that she was jealous of my easy relationship with him, even though she had her own easy relationship with him herself. (Women in the workplace is another subject all together.) Anyway, this is a long story for no payoff whatsoever. But we were sitting there, the three of us, and she was like, “Uch, Blue: This album will make you want to kill yourself.” And I was like, “What are you talking about—it’s Blue: it’s amazing.” And she was like, “It’s depressing, is what it is. Why would you give this to him?” I couldn’t believe it. Didn’t she know? I don’t think Sydney took it home.

    Now I want to do my imitation of Jody Foster freaking out at the table in that great teen movie “Foxes,” from a billion years ago: “Joni Mitchell! Joni Mitchell, man!” Have you seen that?

  9. Joni Mitchell does NOT create depressing music. that is the domain of Nick Drake and Nick Drake alone. your former co-worker is just throwing out nonsense. sometimes its okay to say nothing. tell her that.

    so wierd you mention sydney pollack as I was just ordering Lynn to go home and google the piece about him that you wrote for the new yorker in the aftermath of his death. why do i know of this? well, because i’m a cyber stalker…and i think you’re a great writer…and when i’m not laying on my bed dreaming of being joni mitchell, i’m laying on my bed dreaming of being a great writer. i spend way too much time supine.
    after lynn filled me in on your stats, i started looking for your work. the pollack piece, by the way, was my favorite. the ache. i’ve recalled that in moments, here and there, nearly every day since i first read it.

    i’ve always thought the canyon was laurel canyon. she lived there for years and years.

    i’ve tried not to gush over “case of you”, because its too cliched. but its late and i can’t control myself.

  10. i need to stop doing this.

    i remember that movie, but i wasn’t allowed to watch it because of sexual content.
    to put things in context, i also wasn’t allowed to see the movie grease because of the scene where one guy pulls his pants down and moons his friends.

    i’m not making this up.

  11. I love Joni too although she scares me a little? I listened to my mom’s old records over and over and my mom said there were songs she couldn’t bear to hear, the association to a tender time so strong. The same might be true for me now. This is not one of those times but I used to babysit for a Japanese girl and she would ask me to put on “Johnny”” and we’d sing Circle Game.

  12. I love that, Jesse. It’s so true—that Joni can cut, though why?

    Johnny—hilarious. That’ll be my new nickname for her. I can see you singing Circle Game with a little Japanese girl.

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