Joni Mitchell was always influenced by the most pristine figures of high art. Sure, she loved her Ray Charles and her early rock and roll, but the “painter derailed by circumstance” was more influenced by writers, artists, and classical composers than by more ruffian sensibilities.
It was this fondness for a more erudite culture that made Mitchell a target for Beatles founder, John Lennon. Mitchell and Lennon briefly met when they were on opposite trajectories: Mitchell was in the process of creating one of her greatest masterpieces, Court and Spark, while Lennon was drinking himself to pieces with Harry Nilsson during his ‘Lost Weekend’.
In an interview with Maclean’s Magazine in 2014, Mitchell and Lennon crossed paths once again after Court and Spark‘s release. Lennon, evidently, took his ‘Working Class Hero’ mindset into his opinion on the album and of Mitchell herself.
“That’s a class difficulty he had. He’s a working-class lad,” Mitchell explained. “I’m sure he had that same fight with George Martin because he was afraid that he was betraying his class. I know I’m going to get into hot water if I get into this but I have controversial opinions about him.”
“I watched this [English film], which was a roundup of the best musicians of the 20th century,” Mitchell continued. “As soon as it hit my era, the intelligence of it dropped considerably. When it came to me, this guy folded his arms and crossed his feet and said, ‘I never liked Joni Mitchell—she’s too twee.’ Well, that’s what John Lennon was like. It was that fear working-class people have of middle-class people.”
Lennon, despite having ascended to well-off upper-class status by 1974, was still concerned over the pretensions that came with betraying one’s original class status. It’s a burden that weighed heavily on culture in the mid-20th century.
Obviously, the view of economic and social class were different in Canada and England: Mitchell’s family wasn’t rich by any means, but her own classification of “middle class” contrasts Lennon’s view of his post-war Liverpool childhood.
For what it’s worth, Court and Spark is excessive in that it comments on the excesses of Los Angeles at the time. ‘People’s Parties’ and ‘Same Situation’ make it pretty clear that the album is a character study, not a direct reflection of her own lifestyle.
Whatever your view on class is, Court and Spark is too good of an album to dismiss out of hand.