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The song Joni Mitchell wrote about a hypocritical folk legend


Joni Mitchell was never an artist to shy away from the glare of public perception. A musician so enraptured with her expression, Mitchell found solace in the act of sharing with her audiences. More so than most artists, Mitchell developed a confessional songwriting style that not only appealed on a universal level, but also allowed listeners to become emotionally and intricately attached to her as the latest episode of her life played out across the radio airwaves.

Mitchell was happy to write songs about all the aspects of her life. Whether it was a song dedicated to her then-boyfriend, a track about being cheated on by a lover, or even a plea to Neil Young not to waste his life; Mitchell wasn’t afraid to show her true feelings. The same can even be said for when the ‘Court and Spark’ singer wasn’t pleased with a situation or person, notably once penning a song about the “miserly” figure of Bob Dylan. Many folk singers have come under fire from Mitchell’s lethal pen, but perhaps none are more scathing than ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’.

Lambasted at the time of release, The Hissing of Summer Lawns LP is now rightly revered as one of Mitchell’s most significant works. The album has become an influential behemoth with time and even saw The Purple One, Prince – an avid Mitchell fan – cite the record as inspiration for his domination of the eighties pop chart. It encapsulated everything that makes Mitchell a vital member of the music community. She not only reflects the world around her with searing wit and an unflinching view but even lights the way for her sonic future.

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It’s a record that sees Mitchell continuing to stretch her muscles and grip her toes in the sand. Unmoved by her audience’s wish for her to remain still, Mitchell embraced a full band sound and continued to push herself creatively. ‘The Jungle Line’ and the title track are the most noteworthy moments on the LP. The title track is thought to be one of Mitchell’s most vicious pieces, as many suggest she takes direct aim at Jose Feliciano.

Feliciano was a folkie of the purest expression, singing songs about nature, humanity’s connection to it and, in general, how we as people can better one another through community and connection. All in all, it’s hard to argue with such notions. But, after Feliciano found worldwide fame for his folk-inspired covers of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and, of course, ‘Feliz Navidad’, Feliciano found himself turning heads in Los Angeles like the rest of the rock and roll set.

Feliciano also found room on many records as his commercial value spiked, including Joni Mitchel’s landmark 1974 album Court and Spark. It was perhaps here that Mitchell saw Feliciano, not as the folk hero she once revered but as yet another rock star swallowed up by the glitz and glamour of La La Land. The musician was known for his strong opinions and involvement in the counterculture movement. It means the song ‘The Hissing of Summer Lawns’ directly attacked him and his lifestyle, namely, his pursuit of materialistic things like swimming pools, trophy wives, and other tragic tropes of stardom.

On stage, Feliciano was singing of folk tales and rhetoric to make hippies squeal, but, at home, he was the same as anybody else, clocking up his big TVs and furniture just like the rest of the world. Such a contradiction provided Mitchell with all the ammunition she needed, and she wrote one of her most pointed attacks.