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Classics Corner, Music

Classics Corner: Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses

Natalie Del Castillo

ndelcast@radford.edu

Movies play a big role in creating fame for musicians. When most people fall in love with a movie, it’s most likely that you’ll remember the songs playing in the background of your favorite scenes. “Love Actually” did that for me. There is a scene where one of the main characters realizes her husband is having an affair and she plays Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” While it is heart wrenching to see the character’s reaction, it’s the music that activates the pain that she is feeling. Mitchell’s songs’ recurring theme is love and the tension that love builds.

Mitchell, born Roberta Joan Anderson, was raised by her parents in Canada. Her father was an amateur musician who played trumpet in marching bands. Mitchell would join her father’s band in town parades with other children. Her first musical interests were classic artists like Debussy, Stravinsky, Chopin, and Beethoven. Much like other musicians, she took lessons at a young age. Her piano teacher discouraged her during her piano lessons because Mitchell didn’t read music, she played by ear.

Mitchell considered herself to be more athletic than artistic when she was young but at the age of eight, she contracted polio during a 1951 Canadian epidemic. She was unable to go home for Christmas that year and she was told that she might not walk again. Mitchell has said that this is when she really became interested in singing because she would belt out Christmas carols from her hospital bed. After recovering, Mitchell became involved with dancing considering she could not keep up with other kids her age in sports due to the polio.

Poetry became an important subject in her life when she had a radical teacher in the seventh grade who taught her how to “love words,” as she stated in her debut album’s dedication to him. Her first musical instrument purchase was the ukulele, but later on taught she herself how to play the guitar. Performing was merely a hobby for Mitchell at the start, but in the summer of 1964, she would head to Toronto to become a folk singer. On her three-day train ride to Ontario, Mitchell wrote her first song, “Day After Day.”

Mitchell’s debut album released in March 1968, and she would release an album every year for the next four years. After her third album, Ladies of the Canyon, was when most people say that Mitchell became more than just a folk artist. Her first three albums had been so successful, but Mitchell made a decision to take a break from performing. She took a vacation around Europe after her breakup with Graham Nash. This trip would eventually be where she wrote many of her songs for her fourth album, Blue. In many interviews, Mitchell claims that there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals throughout Blue. Her raw emotions laid out in Blue made this album a hit for Mitchell.

Being the follow-up album to Blue and the album released before Court and Spark, For the Roses would usually be translated as the bridge between two amazing albums; but that’s just not the case. Running at a little over 40 minutes, For the Roses does not produce the sounds of Mitchell’s typical traditional American folk. It is apparent how jazz, R&B and blues have influenced her style in this album. Mitchell demonstrates her classical skills on both the guitar and piano on multiple tracks.

The opening track “Banquet” starts the album off on a gloomy note with its story of a world where “some get the gravy and some get the gristle, some get the marrow bone and some get nothing. Though there’s nothing to spare.” The track is a perfect example of Mitchell’s poetry brought to life through a song. “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” is another track full of unnerving lyrics produced by Mitchell that tells of a heroin addiction. “Barangrill” may have an intricate arrangement but it still is one of the lighter tracks on the album. Four songs in, “Lesson in Survival” is the first of the tracks that tells about Mitchell’s struggles with love. Her soul’s desires come out in this song and it makes you remember that heartbreak you try to leave in your past. The album’s title track is thought to be her reference to her publicized relationships.

“See You Sometime” is another one of Mitchell’s love songs but this piano song deals with short-lived feelings and romantic struggles. “You Turn Me On I’m a Radio” is unlike most of her other tracks, but it was still received well because it showed her rarely used humor. “Blonde in the Bleachers” makes listeners wonder what rumors of her personal life were actually true or not. “Woman of Heart and Mind” is the epitome of Mitchell’s ability to share her emotional journey; it is an instant tear-jerker.

Mitchell brings a new meaning to love songs. Her experimentation with different genres made this album even better than it could have been. Ultimately though, her powerful lyrics will forever be Mitchell’s trademark.

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