Joni Mitchell Ray Sturgeon - Essay

Ray Sturgeon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Because the songs are stronger [on Don Juan's Reckless Daughter] the lyrics overflow less. [Joni] builds images like they do in movies, a piece at a time. People in her songs sit around, restless, maybe talking, maybe drinking, maybe looking out of the window. Nobody ever gets up to slug the other guy. She has sent us more love letters, on post cards, from long lost bus rides. More rainy memories and blizzard emotions. She circles and pokes that big ol' carcass of life. Everything acts on her, and she records it.

Mitchell fans tell me it's an excellent album. But I wonder if the rest of us have the patience for the serious listening it requires.

I back into Joni Mitchell records. I try not to listen to the words. She knows too much. She knows when you've been sleeping. She knows when you're awake. And when you're trying to get some rest, she wakes you up to tell you what your dreams are, because she knows that, too. Listening to Don Juan's Reckless Daughter …, one can only be surprised that she has remained so remarkably committed to words, when there are plenty of easier ways to communicate. She loads her songs like a horse and wagon, and takes journal-entry observations for a quick ride through the park. They speed by so fast we can only notice and appreciate. So I listen to the music. (p. 59)

Ray Sturgeon, in Circus Magazine (copyright © 1978 by Circus Enterprises Corporation), February 16, 1978.