Friday, July 17, 2009

Songs Called Songs: Song to a Seagull

Joni Mitchell: Song to a Seagull


It’s hard to imagine, after all these years, how bizarre Joni Mitchell’s debut must have sounded at that time. Ostensibly a new folk singer, Mitchell played folk music from an alternate universe. Early fans tore their hair out trying to play her guitar parts, not realizing that Mitchell used her own tunings. Her vocal lines used interval jumps that had never been heard on the folk circuit before. And the production on Song to a Seagull, the album, emphasized this sense of alienness.

The song is about the freedom Mitchell sought vs the restrictions she felt. The seagull is free of any expectations from humanity. As Mitchell sings, “no dreams can possess you, no voices can blame you.” By contrast, the human world is represented by the city, which Mitchell calls, “an island of noise in a cobblestone sea”. These may be the words of a not-much-more-than-teenager from the sixties, but the poetry still works.

Paul Desmond: Song to a Seagull


Mitchell’s music has always made sense to jazz artists, and the sentiment of Song to a Seagull could easily describe the freedom that some artists find in jazz. So it only makes sense that jazz artist Paul Desmond would be drawn to the song. Desmond was the sax player for Dave Brubeck for many years. This track shows that his recordings under his own name were just as fine.

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