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Music

Joni Mitchell's thoughts on loneliness and city living

Since the days of the emerging counterculture, Joni Mitchell has remained one of the most fascinating figures in music. A true iconoclast, with much to say on anything and everything, Mitchell is one of those rare figures where, in many ways, her personality has the ability to outshine her music. 

Of course, she’s a genius musician, but as audiences, we can understand more meaning from listening to her opinions than her music. Due to her nature as an iconoclast, Mitchell’s opinions aren’t for everyone, and over the years, she’s dropped a few clangers that have rightly drawn criticism. However, this doesn’t negate her position as one of music’s most compelling figures – because who wants to listen to a character comprised of entirely vanilla talk the worldly issues?

During a 1974 interview with Maclean’s, Mitchell let the world into her complex mind. Giving thoughts on everything from love to life on the road and her childhood, it remains one of the most revealing moments in her long and decorated career. At one point during the conversation, after discussing her recently released album, Court and Spark, the interviewer turned the conversation to a recurring theme in Mitchell’s work: loneliness.

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Mitchell said: “I suppose people have always been lonely but this, I think, is an especially lonely time to live in. So many people are valueless or confused. I know a lot of guilty people who are living a very open kind of free life who don’t really believe that what they’re doing is right, and their defense to that is to totally advocate what they’re doing, as if it were right, but somewhere deep in them they’re confused. Things change so rapidly. Relationships don’t seem to have any longevity. Occasionally you see people who have been together for six or seven, maybe 12 years, but for the most part people drift in and out of relationships continually.”

The singer continued her analysis: “There isn’t a lot of commitment to anything; it’s a disposable society. But there are other kinds of loneliness which are very beautiful, like sometimes I go up to my land in British Columbia and spend time alone in the country surrounded by the beauty of natural things. There’s a romance which accompanies it, so you generally don’t feel self-pity. In the city when you’re surrounded by people who are continually interacting, the loneliness makes you feel like you’ve sinned. All around you you see lovers or families and you’re alone and you think, why? What did I do to deserve this? That’s why I think the cities are much lonelier than the country.”

A pertinent take on the nature of modern society and on city living, Mitchell‘s assertions are correct. It doesn’t matter which city you inhabit, there’s always moments of loneliness that arise from a place that you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s good to escape the city once in a while, be amongst nature and forget about the complexities of modern urban living.

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