Joni Mitchell Peter Reilly - Essay

Peter Reilly

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Joni Mitchell continues to demonstrate that she is not only an actress-singer but a composer of considerable power: her … album "Blue" … is an unqualified success on both counts. It is a collection of what once were called "torch" songs, but Miss Mitchell adds an extra dimension to her "my man's gone now" theme by introducing a spare, satirical element that is sometimes directed at herself, sometimes at her partners….

And, if her songs are based on personal experience, she certainly does seem to have had a rough time of it in the Game of Love…. The subject of My Old Man is apparently given to irregular disappearances, thus causing Joni to collide with the blues and to discover that "The bed's too big / The frying pan's too wide." That last phrase (think about it) is a genuine image, provocative and palpable. There are others like it running all through her compositions, and they regularly bring the listener to sharp attention with the unmistakable clang of sardonic truth.

Though the subject of all these songs is the blues, Miss Mitchell's extraordinary performances of them quickly remove any possibility that they might all add up to a bad case of the sulks….

I think the finest thing about "Blue" … is its message of survival. "Well, there're so many sinking now / You've got to keep thinking / You can make it through these waves / Acid, booze, and ass / Needles, guns and grass / Lots of laughs, lots of laughs. / Well everybody's saying that hell's the hippest way to go / Well, I don't think so." These words sound to me very like a pointed and pertinent warning to that part of a generation that talks a lot about getting it all together but begins to seem less and less capable of really doing so.

Peter Reilly, "Joni Mitchell Sings Her Blues," in Stereo Review (reprinted by permission of the author), October, 1971, p. 87.