In the time of the iPod, we can indulge any musical penchant so easily, good quality earbuds tucked into the interstices of our lives.  I’ve been in a totally Joni Mitchell mood recently, between her Blue and Dog Eat Dog.  Didn’t go so much for the early folksinger, the Michael From Mountains and Chelsea Morning girl, and I preferred the Judy Collins version of Both Sides Now and Tom Rush’s version of Circle Game and Urge For Going. But once she got away from Graham Nash and had the fling with JT and started to rock, I was hooked.

She is celebrated as a keen emotional poet, which I will add to in a moment, but don’t pass over her music.  Bob Dylan is consistently under-rated as a musician, and so is Joni.  The chord structures, the key changes, the rhythmic syncopation, the innovative exploration – she deserves to be remembered as a jazz musician, and not just for Mingus and the new Both Sides Now.  Because Blue, For the Roses, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Hejira, Court and Spark, and Wild Things Run Fast are full of the most amazing tunes.

Who can resist lines like:

There was a moon and a streetlamp

I didn’t know I drank such a lot

Til I pissed a tequila anaconda the length of the parking lot

I talk too lose, again I talk too open and free

I pay a high price for my open talking

Like you do for your silent mystery

Talk to me.


There’s a gypsy down on Bleecker Street

I went in to see her as a kind of joke

She lit a candle for my love luck

And eighteen bucks went up in smoke

I was able to follow many of the songs on Blue and a few on the others on my own guitar with my own cracked voice, but she soon outdistanced my ability in music, and I could just stand slack-jawed in wonder.  And in any case, I am not bringing her up for a critical review, but just because she is speaking to me deeply right now, in whatever transition I am in the very midst of, well inside –“laughing and crying, you know it’s the same release”

So, to pick one among the many – A Case of You, Amelia, Barangrill, Let the Wind Carry Me, Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire, For Free, All I Want, Free Man in Paris, Raised on Robbery, Electricity – let’s go with Hejira – certainly works as a poem, but if you have a chance, have a listen to it’s spare but rich arrangement – Joni’s simple but driving guitar arpeggios and Jaco Pastorius’ soaring and unexpected fretless bass – that’s all there is, and all that’s necessary.

Was she really just 30 when she wrote this?

Hejira – Joni Mitchell

I am traveling in some vehicle

Or sitting in some cafe

A defector from the petty wars

That shell shock love away.

There’s comfort in melancholy

When there’s no need to explain

It’s just as natural as the weather

In this moody sky today.

In our possessive coupling

So much could not be expressed

So now I am returning to myself

These things that you and I suppressed.

I see something of myself in everyone

Just at this moment of the world

As snow gathers like bolts of lace

Waltzing on a ballroom girl.

You know it never has been easy

Whether you do or you do not resign

Whether you travel the breadth of extremities

Or stick to some straighter line.

Now here’s a man and a woman sitting on a rock

They’re either going to thaw out or freeze

Listen… strains of Benny Goodman

Coming through the snow and the pinewood trees.

I’m porous with travel fever

But you know I’m so glad to be on my own

Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger

Can set up trembling in my bones.

I know – no one’s going to show me everything

We all come and go unknown

Each so deep and superficial

Between the forceps and the stone.

Well I looked at the granite markers

Those tributes to finality – to eternity

And I looked at myself here

Chicken scratching for my immortality.

In the church they light the candles

And the wax rolls down like tears

There’s the hope and the hopelessness

I’ve witnessed thirty years.

We’re only particles of change I know, I know

Orbiting around the sun

But how can I help that point of view

When I’m always bound and tied to someone?

White flags of winter chimneys

Waving truce against the moon

In the mirrors of a modern bank

From the window of a hotel room.

I’m traveling in some vehicle

I’m sitting in some cafe

A defector from the petty wars

Until love sucks me back that way.

Ok, so not all of it’s yours, some of it’s hers, but enough of it is ours to treasure, savour.  The triste that it is really universally and depressingly true, but the succour of having someone to share it with.  Thank you, thank you Joni for your work.


One Response to “Hejira”

  1. Sharon Says:

    I read that lyric and I see many threads and strands of that particular decade’s history surrounding her, informing the lyric, and as I tune in on it further, I see for the first time how utterly transparent a sage, muse and troubadour(ess) she was. She was ultra-sensitive, above all, as an artist, and therefore amazingly tough. Uncompromising, really. Songs she wrote are no less “art songs” that the stuff Franz Schubert set to music back in the day. It’s no wonder that she sneers at the musical process in this country today. She was Heathcliff and Catherine, Proust and Studs Terkel.

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