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Joni Mitchell – Court & Spark (1974)

November 18, 2017

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Magnificent logo by Sarca @ caughtmegaming

[Album 583/1001]

Over the years, I’ve struggled with 3 things when it comes to Joni Mitchell.

1. Separating the influence-er from the influence-ees

More specifically, I remember reading a Top Canadian Albums list where the record write-ups were contributed by fellow Canadian musicians.

The musicians advocating for Joni Mitchell’s Blue? At least one member of Sloan (I believe it was Chris Murphy, talking about how Jay Ferguson had raved about the album).

Sloan digs Blue? Obviously I do too!

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2. Separating the Artist from the Art

I recognize it’s inevitably not always the case, but I like to believe that the true greats are humble & grateful.

If you’re the best, you need not advertise; everyone knows, let them tell you how great you are.

So I remember being disappointed by a Joni Mitchell interview where ‘humble’ and ‘grateful’ were not exactly the first two adjectives that jumped to mind.

As a result of such a (or at least, my perception of a fellow Canadian’s relative) lack of modesty, I struggled to appreciate The Hissing of Summer Lawns.

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3. Separating the Listening Context from the Actual Listening

Take Your Kid To Work Day is simply a glorious tradition.

Every November, Grade 9 students across the province tag along with parents/relatives/guardians for a day, to see what the ‘real world’ is like.

In November 2015, I was teaching entirely grade 9 classes.

Which meant that on Take Your Kid to Work Day 2015, I had a full day of uninterrupted productivity: marking/cleaning/planning/report card comments/all those tasks that there’s never quite enough time to accomplish.

And on that day, I listened to Joni Mitchell’s Hejira on repeat.

It’s possible the album is atrocious; however, given the listening context, I thought it was a magnificent recording!

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So when I approached Court & Spark, I tried to address all my previous struggles.

a) I tried to ignore any Joni praise from people whom I admire.Courtandspark.jpeg

b) I tried not to read anything Joni said herself about the quality of this album.

c) I tried to listen to the album in the most average of listening contexts.

And what did I think?

What’s that Joni line? Help me, I think I’ve fallen…

I was woo-ed quite quickly and this time, at least with this album, I reckon it’s gonna last.

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Verbalize the Positive

When I make my annual list later this year, this will be a contender for the top new-to-me album of the 70s!

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From → 1970s

34 Comments
  1. Phew! The tension was getting unbearable.
    I was nervous at the invocation of the dodgy three-term Sloan syllogism.
    (All dogs have four legs. My cat has four legs. Therefore my cat is a dog)
    I was outright anxious when the artists legendary grumpiness tainted my second-fave JM for you. “No hissing over Hissing!” I cried at the monitor.
    I took a hesitant breath as a pupil fee day helped you focus (see that? pupil + eye reference?) dig my favourite Joni album.
    I sighed as I read how the spark court, realising that I, too, need to spend more time with C&S.

    • Fabulous comment Bruce!
      a) I’m pleased to have learned the term syloogism – and that dogs/cats example actually sounds more reasonable than my Sloan/Joni flawed logic!
      b) I think I’m ready to try Hissing again. I have the LP so I have a feeling I’ll be able to find something to like about it
      c) I do see! And interesting choice for the favourite JM, another I’l have to revisit in a more-ordinary context
      d) TIme spent with C&S is time well spent!

  2. 4 albums in the 1001? Jings! I’ve only heard Blue and it just didn’t do anything for me. As a result, I’m not inclined to experience anything else.

    I’m willing to accept that she has some great stuff, but I’m afraid Joni leaves me feeling a little cold. No doubt she deserves all the acclaim that has gone her way over the course of her career, but a man is allowed to say “Na, that’s just not for me”, eh? I’m that man.

    • I think a gentleman is allowed to say such things – at least I hope they are, as I’ve had that reaction to other albums/songs/artists that much of the rest of the world seems to enjoy more than I do!

  3. I think some great artists are arrogant twits and Joni may be one of those. She is however magnificent, I wish I could do those graphics, very jealous.

    • They say a magician should never reveal their secrets – fortunately, I am not a magician, I merely have a reasonably decent working knowledge of google slides/sheets & microsoft powerpoint/excel!

  4. I’m glad you like this – it’s one of my all time favourites, and I listened to it pretty incessantly when I first got it.

    She doesn’t come across very well in interviews, but she is generally right – she was super talented in that 1971-1976 run – she had it all, voice, guitar and piano skills, composition, lyrics. It sounds like she became frustrated being a woman in a man’s world of popular music in the 1960s and 1970s – whenever she dated another singer-songwriter, they’d end up overshadowing her in popularity.

    • I thought I remembered seeing this on one of your top 10s recently?
      Interesting how some artists have a remarkable 5 year window, Elton John probably shares that 71-76 window with Joni, Billy Joel was brilliant for the next 5 or 6 years from 76-82.
      And I suppose the smiths would fit in that next 5 year window from 82-87!

      • Yes, it’s still in my top 10.

        I think it’s probably the exception to have great albums outside the 5 year window. The Beatles did most of their most celebrated work between 1964 and 1969, The Stones had 1968-1972. Some solo artists come back and have great albums after their initial burst, but it seems tougher for bands, which probably need to rely on a balance between strong personalities.

      • I will now be thinking of bands that would maybe have a bimodal pattern (two strong multi-year periods), as opposed to just sporadic great albums after an initial burst!

      • I noticed I said something similar early, but said 10 years – so I guess either is valid?

  5. I haven’t listened to her much, but now I am scared I will need to do some sort of graph each time I listen to her and I hate doing graphs. Do I do them in PowerPoint or excel…I do not know!! 😀

    • Haha, I’d say making a table of values in excel and then bringing it into powerpoint, can’t go wrong!

  6. This is a difficult one. It’s going to be tough to challenge two ‘unshakable beliefs’ – Canadian niceness and true artists being nice and humble.
    I think I read you say that you ‘read’ a JM interview. Those write-ups can be biased, and the writer’s comments can affect what you make of the interviewee. I recommend a Jian Ghomeshi interview of her that’s about an hour long. It’s on YouTube. She doesn’t paint a pretty picture of herself (which, ironically, she can literally do on album covers), but the interview’s intelligently done without Ghomeshi fawning over her or being irritating himself.
    As a commenter above said, she’s generally right. She nicely reduced the hippie culture as an excuse for people to get stoned and laid without responsibility. She called Madonna the Nero of music. She called a certain pop princess with a bad “reputation” (who isn’t Joan Jett and who’s been suing bloggers for criticizing her. Hence, I’m not taking her name.) that “all you’ve got is cheekbones” when she compared herself to her. She’s not making these comments to be shocking or to get attention, but I’d say there’s a certain amount of integrity when an artist is able to truthfully say what he or she feels, without having to care what anybody makes of it. It is unpleasant, but it’s honest, and I prefer that to false humility any day.

    • I appreciate your honest (and not unpleasant!) comments Amrita 🙂
      Good point about potential interviewer bias, I feel I often don’t communicate as clearly as I’d like in text-form (without the verbal inflection), so if it’s an interviewer that’s putting her quotes to fit a certain story arc in print, that’s probably part of what bothered me back in 2015.
      I see what you mean about artists having integrity by saying how they feel – I suppose I just prefer when they’re praised by their peers/influencees.
      I’m all for self-confidence, just not self-aggrandizing.
      Then again, in the 2016 Olympics, I noticed the announcers would introduce every female athlete by her connection to a brother/boyfriend/father/male relative, but never vice versa for the male athletes. And that’s in (theoretically) a more enlightened 2016.
      So in even more sexist times (mid-70s), I’m now appreciating why a female artist would have to speak up about their accomplishments (and not just be unfairly discussed/reduced to their connection with another male artist).
      Ideally – I like when celebrities conduct themselves like a couple of my favourite hockey players, Sidney Crosby & Connor McDavid: beyond talented on the ice, painfully boring in interviews, and because they keep such a low profile in the summer, as far as we know, they don’t exist outside of the game!

      • Wow, such a lovely long comment, Geoff! I’m sorry for not responding sooner. Robert de Niro said that early on in his career he decided not to be a personality. I thought that was inspiring when I read it, but the more I saw him being unresponsive and yet turning up for numerous interviews, I surmised he just doesn’t have much of a demonstrable personality to begin with. Though he did do an impression of himself, which I appreciated.

        I like big personalities. Say, John Lennon, who had a bit of a self-aggrandizing streak himself, to be fair. While it takes away nothing from his music, I think his personality is also part of his talent, part of what makes him such an icon. They say empty vessels sound much, and that is true of many popular music personalities, but the true talents can often have interesting things to say.
        Here’s the link to the Joni Mitchell interview. It is rather long, but I’d love to know what you think when you’ve had the time to get through it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEJuiZN3jI8

      • Thanks for the link Amrita, I’ll have to report back upon viewing!

  7. Courted and spanked?! oh, sorry I may just have misread your pyramid there. Don’t worry, I’ll get my coat and see myself out.

  8. WOW MAN THIS WAS IMPRESSIVE!
    Well done…..

  9. I think nearly all musical luminaries tend too often to be antagonistic. Joni can be one of the major culprits.

    • You may be right Geoff – if either of us end up becoming a musical luminary, let’s try not to be antagonistic!

  10. Sloan even appeared on a Joni tribute disc that I have here. They did A Case Of You.

  11. Never heard this album, not really gone out of my way to do so… I’m not really a fan. But I am glad you dug it, and even more: impressive chart work, sir! You keep raising the bar… er, axis…

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