listening to joni: footnote #1

Reading the biography Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell while doing this re-listening project is proving to be an obstacle.

In general I'm enjoying the book. I love learning more about the artist who created some of the most meaningful music in my life, and about the woman I have always considered a personal role model. I love the stories of how albums were recorded, and even how they were received. What I don't like -- and don't want -- is author David Yaffe's pronouncement of what a song is "about".

Art is always open to interpretation. In fact, art is not complete without interpretation. All art -- novels, film, theatre, visual arts, music -- is incomplete until the receiver (viewer, listener, reader, etc.) experiences it. And that experience is unique to us as individuals. I don't experience art exactly the same way you do, because we each bring our own unique experiences and consciousness to that art. Our interpretation may be conscious or subconscious. It may be intellectual or emotional or, likely, a combination of those. But it is unique to us.

I always say that if I really love a book, I will not see the movie, because I'm almost guaranteed to be disappointed. I want my own interpretation to live in my mind, and if I see the movie, I'll never be able to do that again. The filmmaker's interpretation will taint -- or at least supplant -- my own.

This is what's happening with Reckless Daughter. I don't want to know who or what these songs are "about," because they're not about one thing. I have been listening to and loving this music my whole life. I loved this music without knowing who "Willy" is (Stephen Stills) or which heroin addict in Joni's life inspired her to write "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" (James Taylor). I'm currently listening to Ladies of the Canyon, so soon I'll be moving into music that means a great deal to me -- not one album, but many -- and I don't want someone else's interpretation mucking up my personal experience of this art.

I wish I could read the book with some kind of filter on.


allan said...

As I said yesterday, I could:

(a) read ahead and cover up those parts with post-it notes

(b) xerox the pages and actually cut out the paragraphs to avoid

It's bad when you love a book, see the movie, and, then, if you read the book again, you visualize movie scenes rather than what you imagined on your own (or from the author's actual written description) before. I'd rather that did not happen with the music you most love.

P.S. The Hissing of Summer Lawns is actually about an infestation of snakes Joni had in her back yard.

laura k said...

Wow, I didn't realize you were actually offering to do that for me. I thought you were kidding. That seems like a lot of work.

P.S. The Hissing of Summer Lawns is actually about an infestation of snakes Joni had in her back yard.


laura k said...

I actually think I have to quit the book.

I love Yaffe's analysis of the music, and the stories of how albums were made. But the "People" magazine aspect -- who Joni did or didn't sleep with -- and the decoding of songs in a literal sense are getting me down.

It's too bad, because there are really good parts, too.

allan said...

Oh, no. That is bad. And you are still very early in her career. It's bad that he'll do that through the albums you love, but maybe after her commercial star dims and she is a bit older, he'll stop. ?

johngoldfine said...

I majored in English as an undergraduate but grew so dismayed at the picking apart of books I loved, the interpretive straitjackets, the professorial interpolations and extrapolations always delivered with the utter confidence of one who knows best...that for my graduate study I chose, very happily, history.

Jean and I have a movie rule: when the final credits roll and everyone around us is chattering about the movie we've all just seen, we go all Quaker and stfu until we're at least in our car.

laura k said...

It's interesting how different people have different approaches to art. I was also an English major, and I loved best the close reading. That's where the beauty of the work expressed itself to me.

But my orientation to music is completely different.

So glad I don't have to worry about anyone else chattering about movies. I watch movies either alone or with Allan.

Incidentally, I gather that undergraduate English is now all about theory. I would die. Theory would absolutely kill my enjoyment of literature.