Joni Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi
I’m guessing that if you think of Joni Mitchell, you don’t usually think of fun and laughing. Her music, as a whole, is pretty serious, confessional and introspective, even somber. And yet, there she is, at the end of “Big Yellow Taxi,” a fun song, but still with a serious message about environmental issues and personal loss, giggling infectiously after showing off her remarkable vocal range. I have to believe that it wasn’t planned, but that after going way up high, then dropping down low during this take, she amused herself and laughed. I like to think that she heard the tape and realized that the giggle, even if it was an imperfection, was natural and genuine, and that she decided to release it in that form. The song stands out, even on the incredible album that it is from—“Ladies of the Canyon” has a number of truly classic Joni songs, including that other laugh riot, “The Circle Game.”
When we were dating, my wife was surprised that I liked Joni Mitchell. But it is impossible to deny her talents as a singer, songwriter and connoisseur of music. My tastes, as any reader of my posts to this blog can attest, are pretty broad, but as my wife and I were getting to know each other, she recognized that I liked music that was little harder than she did. Luckily, however, there was significant overlap, enough that we generally were able to make it work. No, she doesn’t love all of the punk, or alt-country or prog rock that I enjoy, but we have found a big area of common ground. And in a family where listening to music is of the utmost importance, it has been critical to our sanity and our relationship. (We are approaching our 25th anniversary, so I guess it has been working out pretty well.)
I’m one of those guys who loves to skip around on the radio looking for a better song, and that makes my wife crazy. We have a rule that you can’t change the station if someone says not to, and that has also kept the peace during car rides. But now that we have satellite radio in one of our cars, I have a problem. There is a station on Sirius XM called “The Bridge,” which bills itself as “the softer side of rock. Stress-free music from Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison and Elton John. Nothing too hard, just great mellow rock.” My wife loves this station—it hits, as she says, her “sweet spot.” And I’m OK with some Jackson Browne, I love Bonnie Raitt and Van Morrison, and can tolerate the occasional Elton John song. But once we land on The Bridge, it is almost impossible for me to convince my wife to let me try another station. I call it the Roach Motel of satellite radio--you can get in, but you can’t ever get out. Worse, every time we turn on the station, it seems like they are playing The Little River Band, and I want to poke something sharp into my ears to make it stop. (On long car rides, we now listen to my iPod, with a curated playlist of songs that I think she will like, although I do sneak in some stuff outside her comfort zone because, well, that’s the way I am.)
I can take mellow rock, but only in moderation—I need something harder and harsher to mix it up. But I have to say, classic Joni is almost always welcome. As is a good laugh.