Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Joni Mitchell at 71: Always attending to her imagination

Joni Mitchell / Self portrait of a true original 

Last weekend, I read with great interest an online interview with the singer-songwriter-artist Joni Mitchell in Maclean's, the Canadian national weekly current affairs magazine. In it, she confessed: "I don't watch news. I'm not a fish so I don't want to get caught in the net so I'm not on the web. I only use my iPhone as a camera, I don't even know my number."

Interviews with Mitchell are rare. However, the Canadian-born Mitchell has surfaced from her Los Angeles residence to drum interest in her latest project, a box set called Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced. Released this week, it combines her career as a Grammy-winning musician with being a painter and a dance enthusiast in collecting 53 songs from her 40 years of recording. Mitchell curated the collection, designed the package which includes six new paintings, and wrote an autobiographical text illuminating her recording process.

I've been fond of Mitchell's music going way back to my university days as a student at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota and as a disc jockey for the college's WMCN-FM radio station. While I have an appreciation for Mitchell's folk music roots -- her 1970 album Blue is a must-listen -- I've always been attracted to her jazzy side, which surfaced in 1974 with Court and Spark and a year later with The Hissing of Summer Lawns, my two favorite Joni Mitchell albums.

During her Maclean's interview with the writer Elio Iannacci, the 71-year-old Mitchell referred to the younger generation as the "push-button generation of today." She was asked: "What is impairing us the most?" She answered matter-of-factly: "Everything is about channel changing. It has ruined attention spans. I spaced out in school but I didn't develop attention-deficit issues because I placed attention on my imagination and ignored the curriculum," said Mitchell.

"I didn't have a million news feeds to contend with. It is just like when I have people to my house to watch a film -- it's like living in a Robert Altman movie! They are always talking over each other. We are all losing the plot. It's an addiction to phones and too much information."

Speaking of an addiction to our phones -- and, by extension, to too much information -- in last Saturday's The New York Times, contributing writer Timothy Egan hit upon a theme of digital narcissism in his opinion article "Grand Tour of the Self." He wrote: "Technology, when it shrinks the globe, or makes life less burdensome, or provides easier access to knowledge, is a wonderful thing. The smartphone has dramatically changed the world, mostly for the better. The jet aircraft opened far reaches of the planet to average people. And the selfie stick, as a simple device to take a better portrait, is largely harmless.

"But when technology changes the travel experience itself -- from immersion and surprise to documentary one-upmanship -- it defeats the point of the journey. We travel to freshen senses dulled by routine. We travel for discovery and reinvention."

Thanks to the popularity of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, we've allowed everyone to become the star of their own movie in their "twenty-teens." Additionally, foodies have become obsessive about photographing what they eat -- especially when dining out -- and posting it online for instant gratification.

Maybe, we have become victims of "nature deficit disorder," so called because in the words of Egan, it's "a symptom of being connected to everything, while being unable to connect to anything."

Which brings us back to Joni Mitchell and the repercussions that future generations face now that everyone spends so much time on their smartphones. She told Maclean's: "My grandson and I were sailing on a boat and he said, 'It's boring.' I asked, 'How can you say it's boring? The sun is shining, we're going across the water so fast...' And he said, 'Not fast enough.' Technology has given him this appetite."

Fortunately, spending half of each year in the province of British Columbia enables Mitchell an opportunity to escape American culture and step away from the "star-making machinery behind the popular song" while returning to her Canadian roots. "I just drop off in the bush. My life has been somewhat overstimulated so I'll never get bored.

"I don't belong to this modern world and I'm out of it, but I don't want in."

Joni Mitchell self-portrait courtesy of jonimitchell.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment