Saturday, January 27, 2018

Reckless Daughter: A Joni Mitchell Anthology / Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

Last year, fans of Joni Mitchell were rejoicing, if a bit confused. Rejoicing, because two books were published about Mitchell's life and work -- and confused, because the books have the same name. Reckless Daughter: A Joni Mitchell Anthology, edited by Barney Hoskyns, pulls together a chronological retrospective on Mitchell's work, told through previously published reviews and feature stories. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell is a personal and musical biography written by David Yaffe. I love and am fascinated by all things Joni, so I tore through both books right away.

The Reckless Daughter anthology is a breezy, fast read. The chronological format lets the reader see Mitchell's career unfold and progress. If you've followed her music throughout her long career, it's an interesting perspective and reminder of the different paths her music as forged. If you're a newer fan or, more likely, jumped in somewhere along the way, it's bound to be enlightening.

As always with anthologies, some of the choices in this collection are surprising. The treatment of Mitchell's music in the music press was sometimes savage and unfair. Critics often wrote about Mitchell's personal life -- or what they imagined they knew of her personal life, based on her lyrics -- and could be blatantly sexist. Little of that is included in Reckless Daughter. So while the book offers an interesting overview, it's also not representative of how Mitchell's music was perceived and written about. Readers may enjoy that, or may find it lacking. I also wondered why Hoskyns didn't include reviews of Mitchell's most acclaimed albums, Blue and Court and Spark. Despite any of this, it's an enjoyable and interesting read.

* * * *

Several biographies of Joni Mitchell exist, but the latest -- Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell -- represents the first time a biographer has had extended access to the artist herself. David Yaffe spent a lot of time with Joni Mitchell over many years. For fans, the opportunity to hear Mitchell's own views on her life and her work are thrilling.

Reckless Daughter is both a personal and a musical biography. Along with the story of Mitchell's life, Yaffe delves deeply into Mitchell's creative process, mining where the songs came from and how they were recorded. The book is packed with fascinating musical details. A famed Steinway piano -- the "Studio C piano" at A&M records -- was the only one Mitchell would play for her masterpiece Blue. Carole King, in the midst of recording her own masterpiece, Tapestry, had to rush in to use the Studio C Steinway before Mitchell's crew arrived. The clock was ticking on one three-hour session, and King recorded "I Feel the Earth Move" in three takes.

Some years earlier, Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix were both performing in Ottawa. In his diary, Hendrix refers to Joni, fantastic girl with heaven words." Hendrix and drummer Mitch Mitchell went see Joni in a small club. They both loved the show, and Hendrix taped it. (The tapes no longer exist.) As it turned out, they were all staying in the same hotel, on the same floor. They spent an evening of deep musical friendship together -- while being hassled by hotel security.

There are also a lot of gossipy bits about Mitchell's relationships, and much analysis and speculation as to back story of various lyrics. In fact, there's a lot of everything. Yaffe has unearthed a huge amount of Joni Mitchell lore, and it's a gold mine for fans.

Yaffe clearly loves and admires Mitchell in every respect. I've read reviews that accuse Yaffe of an uncritical, adoring attitude. For fans like me, who for years have seen Mitchell savaged, misunderstood, and dismissed in an uncomprehending media, the adulation is overdue and very welcome.

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