Joni Mitchell turns 70 on Nov. 7, 2013, so we are sharing this incredible, candid interview Jian Ghomeshi. Happy birthday, Joni!
Lionize at your own risk: Joni Mitchell will break your heart.
The Canadian folk music icon and painter turns 70 this year, and she doesn’t have much patience for false idols. She’s also not a fan of stupid people, faux hippie ideals or Jim Morrison as a poet. She’ll rail at length about the failure of the baby boomers, technology and “confessional” songwriting. She’s candid and cutting and still so thrillingly capable of real beauty.
But Mitchell has spent her entire existence clawing at life: fighting against the numerous diseases that have threatened to cripple and kill her; surviving the music industry; twisting her alienation (innate and self-imposed) into art that’s loved and loathed, sometimes in the same breath.
Next week she’ll travel to Toronto from her home in L.A., where she’ll recite poetry at Massey Hall during Luminato Festival's tribute show, Joni: A Portrait in Song, honoured for something she can no longer do: sing.
This event has manifested a rare burst of indulgence on Mitchell’s part: an exclusive two hour interview at her home with Q’s Jian Ghomeshi, looking back at a life so mythologized, it’s ripe for uprooting, which Mitchell is more than happy to provide.
On being cast in the role of '60s hippie goddess
“Most of the hippie values were silly to me,” Mitchell says. “Free love, come on. It’s a ruse for guys. Look at the rep I got. It was a list of people whose path I crossed. It wasn’t even — in the summer of love they made me into this love bandit. So much for free love. Nobody knows more than me what a ruse that was.”
On how music became her career and being 'Banffed'
“I got pregnant. I was the only virgin in art school right? I was holding on to this precious thing and I just kind of stupidly let it go. As Jean [Grand-Maitre] my choreographer says, 'You were Banffed,'” Mitchell says. “I got caught out immediately and — so I had to create a smokescreen, the music was not of interest. This is a trick that fate — because I didn’t know I had the gift. I hadn’t started to write. I was just a folk singer.”
On giving up her child
“The thing that keeps getting written is that I gave up my daughter in order to further my career,” Mitchell says. “This is just not so. What was done at that time was you didn’t even see the daughter. The right thing to do to protect your parents was to get out of town, go into a home.... There were a lot of unwed children born in 1965, more than could be adopted and all the homes were full. So it was very difficult to survive. I mean at the time I had her I was destitute. There was no way I could take her out of the hospital into a blizzard with no job, no roof over my head. There was no way I could take her.
“She was beautiful and she found her way into a foster home. And I tried to get work and get a setup that I could bring her to. Well in that time period I couldn’t get any work in Toronto because I couldn’t get 160 bucks to get into the union. I was beset by predators, you know, like people trying to take advantage of the situation ... I was a criminal. I was a fallen woman. It was, you know, it was a very difficult situation.”
On the Blue album
“When I realized how popular I was becoming, it was right before Blue and I went, oh my God, a lot of people are listening to me,” Mitchell says. “Well then they better find out who they’re worshiping. Let’s see if they can take it. Let’s get real. So I wrote Blue, which horrified a lot of people, you know. And then it created a lot of attention that was really weird. And so then I bought a property in British Columbia and dropped out. Because what had happened is they’re looking at me and all I’ve done is revealed human traits.
“Kris Kristofferson went, ‘Joni! You know, keep something of yourself.’ Johnny Cash said, ‘The world is on your shoulders.’ They all recoil because the game was, I’m bad, I’m bad, make yourself larger than life. Don’t reveal anything human and my thing is, why?”
On being reclusive
“I’ve been ill. What are you supposed to do? Wander around when you’re sick as a dog? You can’t. So once again, you know, fame is a series of misunderstandings surrounding a name. I’ve been sick all my life, you know. So if I call off for you with abscessed ovaries, I don’t make a big publicity of it like Liz Taylor. I don’t play the professional sick person.... (It doesn’t bother me when I’m called a recluse.) People always get everything wrong.” [Laughs] “When somebody gets something right I’m always delighted.”
On facing death
“I’ve had a very interesting and a very challenging life. A lot of battles, just disease after disease after — I mean, I mean I shouldn’t be here, you know. But I have a tremendous will to live and a tremendous joie de vivre, alternating with irritability,” she says, laughing.
Joni Mitchell will be in Toronto next week to recite poetry at her Luminato Festival tribute concert, Joni: A Portrait in Song.
Follow Andrea Warner on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner.
For more on Joni Mitchell:
CBC Music exclusives: The Joni Mitchell interview
Joni Mitchell photo gallery on Q
Joni Mitchell behind the scenes