Happy 70th birthday to Joni Mitchell

November 7th, 2013 Debra Mann


Today is Joni Mitchell’s 70th birthday (November 7, 2013).  As I reflect on her influence on my life, it’s safe to say that Joni Mitchell single-handedly inspired me to become a musician.  I first heard Joni Mitchell’s music as a teenager in a poetry appreciation class in Junior High School, and instantly became a Joni junkie, devouring everything she recorded.  I devoted myself to learning to sing and play her songs and, in the process, her music and psyche became woven into the fabric of my young life.  I was a devotee of her music during an unusually prolific and highly creative 10-year period (1969-1979), in which she evolved from writing simple and elegant folk songs, to writing very sophisticated jazz harmonies, and working with some of the heavy weights of jazz (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Charles Mingus, Don Alias, etc).  I can’t think of a single artist who went through as radical a growth spurt as Joni Mitchell. She stretched the bounds of her artistry, and that intrigued and inspired me.


Her style was unique, her singing impeccable.  I’ve always been amazed by how her compositions wove perfectly around her lyrics, which were refreshingly honest and open.  She wrote about things that I was deeply curious about, and provided answers, or was at least asking the same questions that I was,  but from a more experienced vantage point.  She awakened in me a new kind of self-inquiry and introspection.  Her sensitivity as a person, and an artist, was seemingly unfiltered and untainted, and resonated deeply with me. I am sure I wanted to be very much like her.


I know that many people have similar feelings about Joni MItchell.  Perhaps it should be called the “Joni effect”.  She influenced a kind of thinking that is quite rare in popular music.  Through her music, she has been outspoken, without compromise, on important issues that effect each of us: love, politics, corporate greed, pop culture, religion, the recording industry, or as she calls it “the star maker machinery”, as well as social causes, including the plight of Native Americans, women’s issues, inequality, and the attack on the environment.  To this day, I am still in awe of her unique artistry, her insight, and influence.  So, happy birthday, Joni MItchell, and thank-you for making the world a better place through your music and art.




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