Both Joni Mitchell and Kurt Cobain were experts at writing in a delicately confessional manner. They both placed their heart on their retrospective sleeves with a natural gift for songwriting, a skill that makes most artists green with envy. However, Mitchell was never a fan of Cobain. In fact, if you make that comparison to her face, she’ll likely be offended and storm off.
Although Cobain’s sound is a lot more furious than Mitchell’s folky leanings, both artists had the rare talent to touch troublesome subjects candidly and could openly dissect themes that others would simply refrain from discussing. The pair ardently refused to gloss over the sharp edges with their work. Instead, the two had no issues leaving their wounds naked for all to see with no bandage insight.
This method is how Mitchell has continuously operated, and whenever someone else comes along with a similar open artistic nature, the comparisons are strife. Like her, Cobain’s lyrics never went through a filter, and tracks like ‘Rape Me’ spring to mind as being particularly visceral, which it’s impossible not to be profoundly affected by.
For most of us, the singer’s ethereal words continue to linger in mind and hit fans on a deep, personal level that only happens once in a generation. Yet, for Joni Mitchell, she didn’t understand what all the fuss was all about, struggling to comprehend why Cobain was placed on such a high pedestal.
In a conversation with Time Magazine in 1998, Mitchell discussed her thoughts on modern music and lamented that most things she heard on the radio were “crap”. Not everything she hated, and she expressed a love for Janet Jackson’s ‘Got Til It’s Gone’, which is a reworking of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, and said: “Most of my favourite artists are black, all modern music is black.”
She then decided to take shots at the late Nirvana frontman Cobain, somewhat cruelly stating: “Everybody says Kurt Cobain was a great writer. I don’t see it. Why is he a hero? Whining and killing yourself – I fail to see the heroism in that.”
Having an opinion on someone’s music and not liking it is absolutely fine. After all, it’s subjective, which is why we all adore it so much. If everyone loved the same artists, things would grow tiresome quickly, and there’s nothing wrong with Mitchell saying she didn’t think Kurt was a “great writer”.
However, her comments about mental health are abhorrent, and they show a shocking lack of empathy. Cobain left this world with a young daughter. He was a father, as well as a son, who lost his life to an illness that takes countless people every week. Thankfully, attitudes towards mental health have changed on a societal level over the last couple of decades since she made this statement. Hopefully, if Mitchell looked back at her choice of words, she’d feel a sense of embarrassment about how she phrased her opinion.