If you would like to spend about half an hour contemplating aging and impending death with several versions of a beautiful song, I seem to have you covered. [The footnotes are partly for me, but also I showed this to a friend who copyedits. 🙂 ]
Over and over again these last weeks I’ve been seeing various situations I’ve been in from different angles. In some cases, it’s because there is a factual thing going on in which I have a different role than I did the last time I was in that story. Other times it’s been a song or someone else’s story that comes into different focus. As I told my friend F., when I was asking for their thoughts on all the connections I was seeing: “Apophenia turned to 11, it’s fun but it is a LOT. Help?”
It’s as apparently trite as the song “Both Sides Now” — but that song is not trite. That song is profound and heartbreaking. When I hear Joni sing it as a young woman, with her clear, high-pitched voice, I find the song is precocious and bittersweet. Even at 26, her wisdom was shining out.
I actually first heard it sung by Judy Collins, and although Collins herself has grown on me over the years, the horrible bouncy (electronic?) (harpsichord?) in this recording, at that tempo, made Joni’s compelling, specific, original lyrics feel rote to me.
Hearing Seal sing it at Joni’s 75th birthday concert, I was openly weeping in the theater. His phrasing, the instrumentation, the gravity of his performance, all contributed to an elegiac mood. “So many things / I would have done / but clouds got in my way”.* When he spoke directly to her across the concert hall, I felt like I had snuck a glimpse at their private life. So beautiful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3J2nqeDf2g
Joni performing it at Newport this year had me straight up ugly crying. I’ve seen the recording several more times now, and I no longer sob or weep so hard I have to stop the video, but that has happened a couple of times. (I find it’s actually more cathartic if you keep watching while you cry, FYI. Ymmv.)
Joni Mitchell. Many of us thought she was done. She was a lovely old lady who came out to various events, was praised, didn’t say much, had horrifying health problems. But Joni in 2022 has significantly recovered from a stroke that ruined her hands, among other things. She can play guitar again. She relearned her own songs by watching videos of herself playing the songs. She performed at Newport this year, her first public performance in TWENTY years. It was an emotional performance and viewing experience from the get-go, but when she sang the lines, “And now old friends are acting strange / they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed / well, something’s lost and something’s gained / in living every day” she knocked every bit of breath out of me. I was not alone; I’ve seen many accounts of people saying that was the actual second** that their tears started.
More than one friend (and nearly every asshole on the internet) has mentioned Wynonna Judd fidgeting during the concert when she wasn’t actively singing. She looks so uncomfortable at times. Well. Wynonna’s mama, Naomi Judd, shot herself in the head the night before she and Wynonna were to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, just under three months before Newport. Naomi Judd was depressed and frantic and miserable. She decided to kill herself rather than be seen in front of her peers and fans looking older or fatter or lower-voiced or crazy or…. When I see Wynonna watching Joni, I see a woman thinking to herself: Mama. Joni’s doing it. You could have done it. You could have heard every person still alive who has anything to do with country music say nice things to you to your face***, but you noped out.
One true thing I know, after a challenging life to date, is that being dead is far worse than looking foolish or fat or old in front of your friends.
*I have been coming to feel that the period should go outside of the quotes. Perhaps because I read a lot of UK content? But this is not a careless error; it’s me as author(!) asserting a non-standard preference. If the universe keeps giving me presents, I will discuss this with Teresa Nielsen Hayden someday. (Patrick just posted that Making Light is going back up! Huzzah!)
**Side topic — the power of recorded music to invoke emotional states down to the split second. [Side side topic: I want to talk to someone who knows about music programming in NBA arenas. I have SO MANY questions.]
***In “Girls Against God”, Florence Welch opens with “What a thing to admit / That when someone looks at me with real love / I don’t like it very much / Kinda makes me feel like I’m being crushed”
[NB — I have a LOT to say about this song, and also the album. It’s tremendous. That might be the topic on 11/2.]