Joni Mitchell gave a rare interview to director Cameron Crowe for the Los Angeles Times to share her thoughts on her iconic 1971 album Blue turning 50 years old this year.
“Sometimes I wonder why it got all the attention, and not my other “children,” you know? Court and Spark, Hejira,” Mitchell mused of the enduring popularity of Blue.
“Like all of my albums, Blue came out of the chute with a whimper,” she recalled. “It didn’t really take off until later. Now there’s a lot of fuss being made over it, but there wasn’t initially. The most feedback that I got was that I had gone too far and was exposing too much of myself. I couldn’t tell what I had created, really. The initial response I got was critical, mostly from the male singer-songwriters. It was kind of like Dylan going electric. They were afraid. Is this contagious? Do we all have to get this honest now? That’s what the boys were telling me. ‘Save something of yourself, Joni. Nobody’s ever gonna cover these songs. They’re too personal.'”
The sessions for Blue, she revealed, were uncharacteristically intimate. “It’s the only session I had like that, where we locked the door. I felt I was in a very vulnerable place,” she said. “I had this dream then that really stayed with me. I’m in a room with bentwood stackable folding chairs, and there’s a bemused audience watching a group of large women in rolled-up nylon stockings, playing tubas and trombones. And I’m in the audience too, except I’m a clear cellophane bag of exposed human organs. Just a bag of human organs with a heart beating in the centre. I felt like that. I felt exposed, like I couldn’t have people in the room witnessing me. I couldn’t really be around people. I felt too vulnerable. I felt like everybody could see into me, and see that I was suffering. I don’t remember even why I was suffering so much. A lot of the album was written in that frame of mind. The image from that dream is still the best metaphor for how vulnerable I felt.
That vulnerability, she explained, came from “feeling a great sense of loss because I’d broken up with Graham Nash. And that was still hanging over me. ’Cause I thought with Graham and I, our relationship was very strong. I thought that it was the last one I’d have. And so I disappointed myself when that wasn’t so, and that’s why I was so sad at that time. I was sad I hadn’t gone the distance.”
In his introduction to the interview, Crowe writes about attending one of “Joni’s Jams,” the all-star musical gatherings that occur periodically at Mitchell’s home in Los Angeles.
According to Crowe, Mitchell — who hasn’t performed in public publicly since 2013 — sang Blue’s “All I Want” alongside singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, despite telling him of her voice, “Oh, that’s gone.”
“It was a fun evening,” Mitchell told Crowe. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to sing. I have no soprano left, just a low alto. The spirit moved me. I forgave myself for my lack of talent.”