Joni Mitchell is one of the most venerable artists of all time, and for good reason. Always true to her creative convictions, she has achieved a lot over her long and meandering career, invariably leading by example.
She’s managed to secure significant commercial success as well as creative enlightenment and has always maintained an aptitude for balancing the two sides, meaning she’s never given up too much of herself. In this way, she’s been able to forego what was ostensibly the commercial viability of her early career and segue into the experimental seamlessly, relishing the opportunity that she has had to develop her craft.
In terms of the quality of her art, it ranks amongst the very finest out there, similar to that of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, culture’s two other favourite polymaths who, like Mitchell, started in the days of the counterculture before going from strength to strength, hitting heights people thought impossible.
Mitchell is an iconoclast, and everything she does is imbued with her acute sense of the self and the world that she inhabits. Blending an understanding of the countercultural ideal and what appears to be a preference for thinkers such as Ayn Rand, her outlook on the world is hers, and she’s not changing for anybody.
Given that Mitchell is so unapologetic in her ways, unsurprisingly, she’s delivered a slew of hot takes over the years, ranging from her thoughts on love to poetry, as well as many cutting accounts of other artists.
In 2010, during an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she delivered one of her most stinging to date. When discussing what she perceives as the increasingly vapid culture in America, she picked out the ascendance of pop star Madonna as a signifier of this, going as far as to compare the ‘Like a Virgin’ singer to the murderous Roman Emperor, Nero.
She told the publication that her work has always been set in opposition to the idiocy of everyday existence in the modern world. “My first four albums covered the usual youth problems – looking for love in all the wrong places – while the next five are basically about being in your 30s”, she said. “Things start losing their profundity; in middle-late age, you enter a tragedian period, realising that the human animal isn’t changing for the better.”
“In a way, I think I entered straight into my tragedian period, as my work is set against the stupid, destructive way we live on this planet.” She added, “Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point.”
She wasn’t done there either. Elsewhere in the interview, she accused the likes of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick of sleeping with “their whole bands and falling down drunk” and even labelled Bob Dylan a “fake” and “a plagiarist”.
Never change Joni Mitchell.