by Brad Roberts
When the news broke last week that Joni Mitchell was in the hospital, in a coma and unresponsive, I was moved and saddened. As information on her condition trickled out during the week, tributes and well wishes flooded Facebook and her website, but today I was happy to hear that she is expected to make a full recovery.
This will be my Joni Mitchell appreciation post. Her music appealed to me from the very first time I heard it. It was 1966 and the song that slammed me the hardest that summer was Tom Rush's recording of "Urge For Going" which somehow perfectly encapsulated all my deep feelings on subjects like the desire to get out of my small town, the need to explore the unknown, that terrible sense of inertia one can feel as a teenager, and the sadness I always felt in New England as summer turned to fall.
By 1969, I was aware of the author of this song and "Both Sides Now", which had been a hit for Judy Collins, and Mitchell was coming to be recognized as a folk singer of considerable talent, having already released her first two albums. That summer I was about to head to Woodstock in August and wanted to catch a couple of concerts prior to going as I had never been to a rock or folk concert before and figured I was "too green."
In July there were a couple of shows at our local summer theatre, The South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Massachusetts, I decided to catch: Arlo Guthrie one week, and Joni Mitchell the next, on July 20, 1969. In an odd coincidence, that was also the day the world watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. There was a break in the show as Apollo 11 landed (the actual moon walk was later that night, after the show was well over).
Wearing the homemade, floor-length, green velvet dress seen in the photo above she swept onto the stage at this theatre-in-the-round and there I was in the third row, lifted off Earth and sent on my own trip to walk on the moon. I felt in orbit. She sang much from the first two albums and almost every song from her yet-to-be released third album, Ladies Of The Canyon, played guitar and piano, and taught me what it means to be a musician and a committed artist at the same time. I could still make an honest claim that it was the best concert I have ever seen.
Sorry if you've heard all this before, but I had to share. I managed to see her four more times over the years and it was always very special, but the first time never faded from memory. Maintaining such a high degree of regard throughout the years, I believe her impact will never be in danger of being underestimated.
Sad to hear about the fire last Friday at HM 157 in Lincoln Heights. Though I've only been there a few times, it was a memorable experience every time and the creative energy that permeated the atmosphere will take much more than a fire to dampen. The damage was mostly contained to the backyard and they intend to rebuild. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help.
(Warning: political diatribe) Finally, the week ended with indictments being handed down and the ruling of death by homicide in the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore. It was hard to put into words the emotional response to the news. It's so discouraging that all the right wing attempts to roll back the progress of the sixties during the last 40 years, beginning with Reagan, appear to have succeeded in keeping racism, intolerance and inequality alive. Maybe we can, at least, have a conversation about it again. I don't exempt my own generation from blame as we are as responsible for dropping the ball as those who actively worked to legislate against progress.
I've wandered way off track with this post so I don't have that many words left to spread around on the week's music. It's actually a pretty quiet week. There's the new Monday residencies. And, lets hear it for Lady Low, beginning a Tuesday residency in Hollywood at 3 of Clubs, after a show at Harvard & Stone on Monday, Max and The Moon at The Echo on Wednesday, and Stephen Merritt (of Magnetic Fields) at The Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Friday and Saturday.
Had a really nice show last night (Saturday, May 2) at Lot 1 with some pretty impressive talent. Recently moving to L.A., Joe Levi is an innovative and vocally powerful new artist with a penchant for descriptive lyrics. The European is a uniquely original performance artist with a flair for beautiful melody and seductive dance beats. His homemade instrument is a combination of electronic keyboards which he tried to explain to me. Needless to say they put a world of sounds that he requires at his disposal. The Pretty Flowers tore up the place with an impressive, thrashing rock and roll set that included a lot of new material.