Joni Mitchell is a confessional songwriter, one with an ability to touch troublesome subjects candidly, openly dissecting themes that others would simply refrain from discussing. She never glosses over the edges and leaves her wounds bare for all to see with no bandage insight.
This is the manner in which Mitchell has continuously operated, and it rocketed her into a league of her own. Her lyrics offer her unfiltered perspective. Nothing has ever been sugarcoated, and she seldom paints herself in a holier-than-thou light. How Mitchell presented herself allowed the listener to understand her and all of her blemishes. This method gave her songs a shimmering sense of authenticity, and one of her biggest hits sees the singer own up to her “errors”.
Her 1971 seminal masterpiece Blue would span a new dawn when it came to songwriting, and 50 years on from its release, the record remains the ultimate breakup album. Throughout the LP, Mitchell paints a raw portrait at the end of her relationship with Graham Nash in a poetically nuanced way where there’s no simple black or white reason.
Every song on the album is a moving moment, but ‘A Case Of You’ contains something extra special that tugs on the heartstrings. She sings on the track, “Just before our love got lost, you said, ‘I am as constant as a northern star,’ and I said/’Constantly in the darkness – where’s that at? If you want me I’ll be in the bar.'”
‘A Case Of You’ doesn’t see Mitchell point the finger at anybody but herself for the breakdown of her relationship, and the honesty exhibited in the song was unquantifiably refreshing. “I think men write very dishonestly about breakups,” Mitchell explained to MOJO in 1994.
Adding: “I wanted to be capable of being responsible for my own errors. If there was friction between me and another person, I wanted to be able to see my participation in it so I could see what could be changed and what could not.
“That is part of the pursuit of happiness. You have to pull the weeds in your soul when you are young, when they are sprouting, otherwise, they will choke you.”
In 1979, Mitchell’s life had slowed down from when she wrote ‘A Case Of You’ and opened up on her separation from the person who penned that song eight years prior.
“At that period of my life, I had no personal defences,” Mitchell reflected with Rolling Stone. “I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either.”
Even though Mitchell changed as a person, her unbridled honesty has remained the focal point of her songwriting. On ‘A Case Of You’, she felt worthless, and from the lyrics, it’s clear that Mitchell had stopped respecting herself at this point. A feeling which is familiar to many yet rarely examined.
Music has always been a source of catharsis for Mitchell. ‘A Case Of You’ allowed her to exorcise her demons which arose from the breakup with Nash. It was the mechanism for Joni to say things that she could only communicate through song and couldn’t bring herself to admit in person. It just happened that it incidentally became an all-time classic.