If a song worth can be measured by its influence then the fact that ‘A Case of You’ has been covered by well over 200 artists surely places it amidst music’s upper echelons. Prince was so moved by the song that it not only inspired a cover version, ‘A Case of U’, but endeared him so strongly to Mitchell’s music that he began to pen her fevered letters of adoration.
As Joni once told New York Magazine, “Prince used to write me fan mail with all of the U’s and hearts that way that he writes,” Mitchell fondly reminisced in 2015. “And the office took it as mail from the lunatic fringe and just tossed it!”. It is a cutesy side story to an otherwise behemoth break-up track and Prince’s love of it exemplifies the impact of the song.
‘A Case of You’ towers above heart-torn imitators by means of sheer sincerity. As Mitchell once told Mojo Magazine, “I think men write very dishonestly about breakups. 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.”
This profound and beautifully illustrated point about the need to take dominion over life’s unfurling circumstances and their effects on us as people is the sort of poignant intelligence that permeated Mitchell’s work as a songwriter. It is also the reason she is held in such high esteem by all the artists whom she has influenced and moved.
It is a fascinating thought, therefore, that one of the many artists moved enough to cover the track, may well have also been the songs muse.
Not just ‘A Case of You’ but indeed a lot of the material on her beloved album Blue is centred around a break-up that the singer-songwriter was enduring with fellow musician Graham Nash. The songs lyric, in part, detail the fading spark of a relationship heading towards its end and the growing divide between two lovers with lines like, “Just before our love got lost you said, / I am as constant as a northern star / And I said, “Constantly in the darkness,” illuminating poetically the notion of a rift.
What makes the track so unique and full of depth, however, is the fact that it somehow functions as both a break-up lamentation but also an ode to somebody, exemplifying the dichotomy of love and love lost. Thus there is also an argument that the idea of the song being simply about Nash is far too head-on.
The track’s production features James Taylor on guitar and Mitchell providing the strumming on the Appalachian dulcimer. The pair would later have an intense but brief relationship, so it is easy to speculate that the flowering of a new romance from the ashes of another could be the reason behind the songs self-evident light and shade.
This notion of star-crossed lovers and kindred souls is also reflected in the literary influences that Mitchell has referenced as inspirations behind some of the lyrics. “I am as constant as the Northern Star,” alludes to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar one of the most schismatic figures in literature, whereas “Love is touching souls,” is in reference to the Rainer Maria Rilke poem ‘Love Song’, which examines the inner yearnings of two guarded souls, elucidating how Mitchell may have felt at the time.
Ultimately it is a song that has derived a universality from a very singular experience, and it is this, regardless of who it was written about, that has made it resonate with so many. We may never know for certain who the song is about directly – if it is indeed about one specific person – but Mitchell’s spiritually translucent performance means that the emotion behind the piece is gleamingly exposed and defenceless.