You don’t get much more eminent than Joni Mitchell in terms of status as a songwriter. Whether it be her early period as a countercultural heroine or throughout the 1970s, where she really shone as one of the most profound figures in music, there’s so much to delve into.
Today, she continues to inspire countless budding songwriters, a testament to her skill as a songwriter. Mitchell’s work has a universal feel to it, and regardless of what chapter in her career, she’s managed to speak to people from different walks of all. Her talent transcends genre and time.
At the ripe age of 78, Mitchell remains one of the most captivating figures in music, possessing sage wisdom that only a true musical legend can retain. She’s done it all, seen the counterculture flourish and collapse, dated icons, toured the world – it’s been a life led to the fullest. Unorthodox but always compelling, Mitchell is steadfast in her beliefs, a quality that gives her music a pulp that her contemporaries could only have dreamed of achieving.
However, she didn’t always want to be a musician. In a June 1974 interview with Maclean’s, Mitchell explained that as a young girl, it was art and dance that really captured her imagination. She also revealed that her famous uncompromising attitude is something that she possessed in her early years, as was her multi-disciplinary aptitude. In no uncertain terms, music lessons killed her interest in the discipline.
She said: “I always had star eyes, I think, always interested in glamour. I had one very creative friend whom I played with a lot and we used to put on circuses together, and he also played brilliant piano for his age when he was a young boy. I used to dance around the room and say that I was going to be a great ballerina and he was going to be a great composer, or that he was going to be a great writer and I was going to illustrate his books.”
She explained: “My first experience with music was at this boy’s house, because he played the piano and they had old instruments like autoharps lying around. It was playing his piano that made me want to have one of my own to mess with, but then, as soon as I expressed interest, they gave me lessons and that killed it completely.”
Mitchell continued: “My childhood longing mostly was to be a painter, yet before I went to art college, my mother said to me that my stick-to-itiveness in certain things was never that great, and she said you’re going to get to art college and you’re going to get distracted, you know. Yet all I wanted to do was paint. When I got there, however, it seemed that a lot of the courses were meaningless to me and not particularly creative. And so, at the end of the year I said to my mother I’m going to Toronto to become a folk singer. And I fulfilled her prophecy. I went out and I struggled for a while.”
You can imagine the sort of child Mitchell was. Free-spirited and headstrong, I’m sure she’d tell you that not much has changed since then. This dedication to the fulfilment of the self has carried her through her long and winding career.