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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

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Exclusive: Joni Mitchell talks to Jian Ghomeshi about death, hippies, art and getting 'Banffed'

Joni Mitchell turns 70 on Nov. 7, 2013, so we are sharing this incredible, candid interview Jian Ghom…

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donna1allard
#1 posted by
donna1allard
on Jun 11, 2013

For once I have a deeper understanding of myself - 'a lot makes sense now'. Thank you Joni, thank you so much for letting CBC interview you. Donna Anne, Little Aldouane NB

kamalot
#2 posted by
kamalot
on Jun 11, 2013

Jian, you said it so perfectly at the end, "amazing". I found her honest and real and at no time did she have to tell me that she was being either - especially in that condicending way that so many others take it upon themselves to tell you they are being!  I'll remember this for days to come. Joni & Jian, this was amazing!  

Alba
#3 posted by
Alba
on Jun 11, 2013

How delightful that a music icon such as Joni can still talk about the importance of connection between her music and yourself.  I knew her music was a remarkable gift when I first discovered it.  In retrospect, I realize that the gift was its ability to profoundly resonate with my life and the strong connection I felt with humanity as a result. I am a better person as a result. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much!

sunny11111
#4 posted by
sunny11111
on Jun 11, 2013

A moving interview with deep respect and curiosity in the mix. Joni Mitchell is like one of her paintings I'm sure, colorfull-fluid-and original

Blaze on Traiblazer

neotropix@hotmail.com
#5 posted by
neotropix@hotmail.com
on Jun 11, 2013

I sat twelve feet away from Joni Mitchell at the Riverboat in Yorkville in 1969. She was a goddess and I was completely overwhelmed. It's interesting that she is self-critical but the reality is that she is one of the most brilliant songwriters of all time. My friend Mr Leahy was at Guelph, where I met him. When he saw Joni in concert John realized that he either had to go up on stage and embrace her or leave. When he opened the door to leave he ran into Leonard Cohen who was Joni's boyfriend at the time and one of our heroes. Her take on our generation is a bit skewed but her own contribution to that rich musical time was huge - beyond her own dreams.    

madraven
#6 posted by
madraven
on Jun 12, 2013

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I can't thank you enough for this interview. I grew up listening to Joni and it's so good to hear where she's actually been (I'm not a big follower of celebrity) and make sense of her past. Also, there were so many fascinating insights into the creative process. Who else could weave in folksy references to 60s pop culture with Nietsche, Schubert, and Picasso. I feel so nourished by listening to this interview. Thanks Jian. Thanks Joni.

marjoriem
#7 posted by
marjoriem
on Jun 12, 2013

im so dissapointed in Joni. Saying she cant sing because of 'the illness' and how it affects her sinuses and still puffing away on the cancer stick. Saying she was so 'above everyone' that she doesnt even have contemporaries - only people like picasso and debussy. So self-centered that even most of her paintings are self-portraits. No gratefulness. Putting down bob dylan for creating a character he hid behind. She meanwhile has created a sick body that seems totally centered on smoking poison that she cant even see how she has been sucked in by an addiction driven by corporate profit. They dont even know how to pay tribute? This is my tribute - the truth as i see it and you have yours. You really lost it Joni. Very sad indeed.

Stef511
#8 posted by
Stef511
on Jun 13, 2013

So rare to hear an artist of this magnitude matter-of-factly describe her creative process for song writing and painting, down to details of her recognizing internal energy flows and how she makes practical use of them to get the job(s) done. Illuminating and fascinating! Well done, Jian. 

Also … personally speaking, I find (the) disdainful (and completely unnecessary) comments on Ms. Mitchell's personal choices to be somewhat offputting. Those personal criticisms say more about how highly these commenters rate their own opinions than … anything else. 

 

pauliewood
#9 posted by
pauliewood
on Jun 13, 2013

Great Interview.  What struck me though is Joni's continual chain-smoking.  Does Joni not allow the possibility THIS is what has greatly limited her recent vocal woes?   Laura Nyro gave up this insidious habit a decade before she passed away, and stated that it greatly helped her vocal range and expressiveness.  

farbel
#10 posted by
farbel
on Jun 13, 2013

Thank you so very much for this.

myrag
#11 posted by
myrag
on Jun 13, 2013

It hurts me, as a passionate feminist who sees feminism in everything that Joni does, that she disowns feminism.  It saddens me that her chain smoking has likely shortened her singing career and possible also her life.  It's hard for me to get moralistic about this though, like my parents and friend did when they discussed the interview.  Joni has given us incredible brilliance.  I'm not sure I'd like her for a room-mate (the ego, the drinking and smoking, the quack theories about how her birthday astrology shaped her character), but as long as I don't have to I have about a zillion questions I wish she'd answer, and I'd go to considerable trouble to breath in her second-hand smoke.     She occasionally appears arrogant or goes on rants in this interview, but there are also many parts where I wish Jian would let her finish a story or thought.  Her tangents are sometimes too obscure to follow, but at least as often they're more interesting than whatever question Jian is cutting her off to fixate on.  The real gems here are the stories Joni tells about herself and others ,including the artists and philosophers she refers to.  There are some interesting ideas about the artistic process as well.             

neotropix@hotmail.com
#12 posted by
neotropix@hotmail.com
on Jun 15, 2013

While I am a huge fan of Joni, I did read an article years ago in which she was sitting with Neil Young and Bob Dylan who were discussing their new albums. She was pissed off because when she tried to talk about her new album they paid no attention - as if she were a lightweight - talking about Neil as a "strummer" is pretty low - he and Dylan are likely two of our most brilliant song writers - ie Helpless and It Ain't Me Babe and a whole lot more! I still love Joni but ego is a big part of being brilliant and I can live with that. The three of them and Leonard and a number of others made our lives very rich. Don't agree that we had a problem - we were just lucky enough to be around for an amazing cultural time.

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