by Garrett Sawyer
Among songwriters who would win the prize for brutal honesty? Obviously, there's no way to quantify so it's impossible to rank them all but if you made a list of the most candid works Joni Mitchell would certainly earn a place for her painfully frank album "Blue".
Without a doubt Mitchell was at her most vulnerable, describing herself as having no personal defenses while comparing herself to a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes.
All I Want
On the one hand there's autonomy and on the other hand there's the dependency and partial loss of identity created by love. In this song she balances the two. She wants love to bring out the best in herself and in her lover but can't escape the fact that love is a package deal.
Once love was an adventure but now she knows it has its downside. And she's on a journey looking for the solution but doesn't know where to find it. (Sample lyric: "I love you when I forget about me").
My Old Man
You have to remember that while utterly commonplace now the very mention of "cohabitation" in the late 60's and early 70's was enough then to cause raised eyebrows, if not low-level scandal.
To legitimize the phenomenon Mitchell wrote this song about her housemate Graham Nash to put a gentle frame around it, tongue ever-so-slightly in cheek. (Sample lyric: "But when he's gone me and them lonesome blues collide. The bed's too big. The frying pan's too wide").
This is the song Mitchell had held back releasing for so long. Keep in mind that she had given birth to a baby girl out-of-wedlock in 1965 when she was just a poor folk singer in Toronto. The baby's father was Brad MacMath, another first year art classmate.
She gave the baby up for adoption due to her own poverty. Years later when she became famous the existence of the child was unknown to the public and would remain that way until 1993 when the story of the pregnancy was sold to a tabloid.
The daughter, originally named Kelly Dale Anderson, was renamed Kilauren by her adoptive parents David and Ida Gibb. Mother and daughter were finally reunited in 1997. To say that the birth of this child had an effect on Mitchell and her musical career is an understatement.
This confessional song is the cornerstone of the album but was written so obliquely that listeners didn't really understand its true meaning, "Little Green" being Joni's nickname for her baby girl Kelly (as in the color green).
It alternates between explanation, farewell and grief to the daughter she felt she had no choice but to say goodbye to. (Sample lyric: Little green, be a gypsy dancer ... little green, have a happy ending").
If writing about the heartbreak of giving up a child for adoption isn't baring your soul I'm not sure what is. Joni Mitchell had no reason to assume she'd ever see or hear of this child again, channeling her anguish into her masterwork, "Blue" instead.
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