Joni Mitchell is an autobiographical songwriter. Every lyric she wrote on the page and every note she let reverberate around the airwaves had been lived by the singer to its fullest. What’s more, Mitchell was also an accomplished musician and arranger alongside being a supreme lyricist. It meant that not only could she write potently and poetically about her personal life but she could turn songs around in quick time too.
The result, more often than not, were songs created about experiences that had happened to Mitchell in recent weeks prior to her writing session. It also meant that if you so happened to be a boyfriend of Mitchell’s you were almost guaranteed to hear pieces of your life put out as songs—it’s certainly something David Crosby can attest to.
Crosby and Mitchell shared a relationship after they began dating around 1967. The duo had a significant impact on one another’s careers. Crosby exposed Mitchell to the rock ‘n’ roll set, providing her with the lift-off she needed having returned from Britain ready to become a performer as well as a songwriter. Mitchell introduced Crosby to Buffalo Springfield two members of which, Neil Young and Stephen Stills would join Crosby to form the rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It wasn’t all plain-sailing though.
The relationship deteriorated as the two musician’s paths began to diverge. Before they could completely separate, however, Crosby took up semi-permanent residence with an old girlfriend and began a romantic relationship. When Mitchell found out she was rightly incensed. It saw the singer confront Crosby at a party held at The Monkee’s Peter Tork’s house.
“Joni was very angry and said, ‘I’ve got a new song’,” Crosby reveals in David Browne’s book, The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup. It’s a scary thought for any person to be the subject of a song from a jilted lover but to receive one from Mitchell must’ve sent a shiver down his spine.
Mitchell then played ‘That Song About the Midway,’ which had “references to a man’s sky-high harmonies and the way she had caught him cheating on her more than once… there was no question about the subject of the song,” Browne writes. “It was a very ‘Goodbye David’ song,” said Crosby. “She sang it while looking right at me, like, ‘Did you get it? I’m really mad at you.'”
That wasn’t enough, however, “And then she sang it again. Just to make sure.” Naturally, the pair broke up shortly after but their friendship remained. Decades later and the duo still meet from time to time to have dinner and share stories. As time passes on, the troubles between them have been forgotten but if Mitchell or Crosby ever needed reminding, they’ve always got ‘The Song About the Midway’ to enjoy.