Joni Mitchell Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Joni Mitchell 1943–

(Born Roberta Joan Anderson) Canadian songwriter and musician. One of the foremost folk artists of the 1960s, Mitchell has made the transition to the 1970s with music that now incorporates forms of pop, rock, and jazz. Her themes, however, have remained the same—love and the difficulties of maintaining a loving relationship, loneliness, and the pressures of stardom. Mitchell, who taught herself guitar with a Pete Seeger instruction record, performed in coffeehouses in Toronto, Detroit, and, finally, New York in the early 1960s. Her success as a songwriter skyrocketed when "The Circle Game" and "Both Sides Now" were recorded by established folk artists Tom Rush and Judy Collins. It was not until the release of her first album, Songs to a Seagull, however, that she became known outside musical circles and achieved recognition as a performer. Her songs are often autobiographical, reflecting not only her intriguing personal life, but the sentiments of women living in times of changing roles. Most critics have noticed a definite maturation in Mitchell's lyrics; she has gone from the simple but pleasant sentiments of "Both Sides Now" to songs like "Coyote," which are replete with ambiguity and exhibit a sense of humor that was not evident in earlier works. Her experimentation with rock and jazz in recent years has destroyed her somewhat stereotyped image as the symbolic "Woodstock generation" folksinger, and has made her work difficult to classify. This has brought varying reactions from both fans and critics, who are unsure of the direction and success of this synthesis. As an innovative musician, she is often considered the female counterpart of Bob Dylan, both in creativity and influence.