Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hank's A Fan In More Ways Than One

From the moment Joni Mitchell's career began — with coffee-house bookings, serendipitous encounters with established stars, and a recording contract that gave her full creative control over her music — the woman from the Canadian wheat fields has eluded industry cliches. When her peers were focused on feminism, Mitchell was plumbing the depths of her own human condition. When arena rock was king, she turned to jazz. When all others hailed Bob Dylan as a musical messiah, Mitchell saw a fraud burdened with halitosis. Unafraid to "write in her own blood," regardless of the cost, Mitchell has been vilified as a diva and embraced as a genius, but rarely has she been recognized as an artist and a thinker.

This new portrait of the reclusive icon examines how significant life events — failed relationships, the surrender of her infant daughter, debilitating sickness — have influenced her creative expression. Author Katherine Monk captures the rich legacy of her multifaceted subject in this offbeat account, weaving in personal reflections and astute cultural observations, and revealing the Mitchell who remains misunderstood.

Hank says:
"Rather than approaching her subject through chronological biography, Katherine Monk addresses groupings of topics, relating them to the life and career of Joni Mitchell, jumping backward and forward through time. There's certainly some discussion of her music, but much of the writing deals more with various philosophical and sociological influences on artistic creativity. The anecdotal content revisited some stories I knew about Mitchell, reminded me of ones I'd forgotten, and revealed ones I hadn't heard. I was especially interested to learn that her song 'Man from Mars' was not, after all, a lament for yet another relationship with a man that didn't last, but rather her way of working through the guilt and sorrow of one of her cats going missing! Knowing that, I now see that there are lyrical indications, but it never crossed my mind. Happy ending: He turned back up not long after she finished composing the song. 

Since Monk accepted Mitchell's unwillingness to give interviews, the source material is all secondary, and abundantly footnoted. With a few exceptions, I bleeped over most of the attributions, and didn't feel like I was missing much, in a fairly quick read. I'd recommend it both to fans of Mitchell's music and to people who casually want to know a little more about that 'Both Sides Now' lady."

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