listening to joni: #11: wild things run fast

Wild Things Run Fast, 1982

Front Cover
Wild Things Run Fast feels like the beginning of a new Joni era.

Mingus ended a trajectory. After Mingus, Joni toured, and took a break from recording. From now on she would release an album every three or four years, rather than annually as she once did.

For me, Wild Things is an easy album to enjoy. It's tuneful and accessible, Joni's voice velvety over well-honed pop-jazz. With the opening notes of the first track, "Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody", you know you're in familiar territory, reminiscent of Hissing and Hejira, but simplified and streamlined.

Back Cover
I wonder if this lady has a hole in her stockings.

"Chinese Cafe" laments lost youth, and the lost landmarks of youth, the paved-over paradise, not with a deep sadness, just a wistfulness, an acceptance. Joni sings to an old friend, as she did in "Song for Sharon". Careful listeners, hearing My child's a stranger, I bore her, but I could not raise her, can flash back to "Little Green" from Blue. But Joni's reunion with her daughter is still 15 years away.

Joni weaves the "Chinese Cafe" tune into the classic "Unchained Melody", but without the deep despair that song is often given by singers, more of a straightforward reading. This is in keeping with the feel of the whole album. After all, a centerpiece is "Play It Cool", with the refrain, Play it cool, play it cool, fifty-fifty, fire and ice.

In the title track, Joni touches on the love-vs-freedom conflict, this time from the perspective of "Coyote" or "Blond in the Bleachers". No sadness here either -- more of a bemused understanding: eating from her hand at last. But when it gets too cozy:
Fast tracks in the powder white
Leading out to the road
Winding from her tender grasp
Perhaps "Ladies Man" was inspired by the same dude, a man who can charm the diamonds off a rattlesnake. This is a wonderfully provocative line:
Why do you keep on trying to
Make a man of me
Couldn't you just love me
Like you love cocaine
"Moon at the Window" has the feel of a jazz standard, Joni's voice dipping and swooping into high and low registers, Wayne Shorter's soprano sax flying alongside, Joni's signature harmonies, once again her own backup singer.
Is it possible to learn
How to care and not care
Since love has two faces
Hope and despair
Inside Cover
Classic Joni lyrics, but with a cool sound, no angst here.

"This Solid Love" was and always will be about Joni's relationship with bassist and producer Larry Klein (who Joni has always called Klein). It's no small feat to write a happy, celebratory love song that isn't sappy or simplistic.
Love always made me feel so uneasy
I couldn't relax and just be me
More like some strange disease
Than this solid love
She also uses a bit of talk-singing to proclaim their love Un-believable and Hot dog darlin'.

"Underneath the Streetlight" is also a celebration of love. And the closing track is one of the most profound celebrations of love ever written: Corinthians 13. I love the cadences of the King James Bible, and am a huge fan of the poetry of Corinthians; Joni singing them is a rare treat for me. This is not a religious thing; I'm a Jewish atheist. But if you love Shakespeare, you've got to give King James a chance.

The woman whose heartweariness sang Maybe I've never really loved, I guess that is the truth, the woman who growled Love's a repetitious danger, now offers, If I didn't have love, I'd have nothing.

Wild Things Run Fast is a celebration of love in many forms.

Joni and Klein, from inside cover

Along with "Unchained Melody", there's another cover on this album, Leiber and Stoller's "(You're So Square) Baby I Don't Care". It's a bit of a throwaway track, but it works well with "Solid Love" and "Underneath the Streetlight".

Bad critic comment of the album

There are quite a few to choose from for this album. Although some critics praised Wild Things, most found it too simplistic, too pop, not pop enough, too unstructured, too this, too that.

Richard Cook, writing in NME, finds "nothing of consequence to remark on", pans the "distressingly simple" rock sound, and dismisses Wayne Shorter and certain production values as "a rich woman's indulgence". He damns-with-faint-praise Joni's voice, and sneers at past lyrics: "And there were always her diaries to look through, over and over."

The worst stab of the review, however, is a very low -- and ignorant -- blow: comparing Joni unfavourably to Rickie Lee Jones. Jones at the time was wearing a beret and smoking brown cigarillos, telling the music media how she wasn't influenced by Joni.

The album cover

I really like this album cover. On the front, Joni's given us another self-portrait, in a casual, jaunty pose, but with a serious or neutral expression on her face. She's leaning on a television, which is showing another of her paintings -- a herd of wild horses, running fast. In the same room, used on the back cover, are a pair of women's shoes, black heels that appear hastily kicked-off.

We get two other Joni paintings, too: one of Joni and Klein, which was a study for this painting, "Solid Love". Also on the inside cover, there's another black-and-white study, a little glimpse of Joni the painter at work, or perhaps her mind at work. There's an art book, open to a two-page spread showing Matisse's "La Danse", a wicker chair that looks straight out of Paris, paints and brushes, and a painting of the shoes shown on the back cover.

I love how so many of Joni's paintings include a frame of some type -- a picture frame, the TV, a painting in a painting.

Cacti or stockings?

I think we're done with references to cactus and stockings.

Other musicians on this album

Drums, John Guerin, Vinnie Colaiuta
Bass, Larry Klein
Electric Guitar, Steve Lukather, Larry Carlton, Mike Landau
Prophet Synth, Larry Williams
Soprano Sax, Wayne Shorter
Tenor Sax, Larry Williams
Baritone Sax, Kim Hutchcroft
Oberheim Synth, Russell Ferrante
Percussion, Victor Feldman
Background vocals, Lionel Richie, Charles Valentino, Howard Kinney, James Taylor, John Guerin, Kenny Rankin, Robert De La Garza, Skip Cottrell


bcgeu 100: six short videos about labour history in the province of bc

I love history -- the history of anything that I'm interested in. Music, baseball, science and technology, and of course, the history of people's movements. Women, peace, civil rights, LGBT -- and above all, I love labour history.

Learning about how working people organized and fought for justice in the workplace is thrilling to me, especially the ground-breakers, the pioneers, the courageous women and men who defied unjust law and immoral authority, who risked everything.

Those people are my heroes. I feel a kinship, a solidarity with these historical figures. I feel the chain of labour battles stretching out across the ages, the torch passed from their hands to ours.

Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era. I dream of the time when workers would "down tools" and walk out, shutting the whole factory down. I dream of general strikes, of the IWW crossing class and colour lines, of the "mill girls" of Lowell and Laurence, Massachusetts (my all-time favourite moment of labour history) -- the radical edge of movement of risk and reward.

Of course I know those were brutal and dangerous times. Coming from working-class immigrant roots as I do, I would not have had a privileged life. But I know something about how alive those activists must have felt, how passion must have infused their lives with deep meaning. The power they must have felt, however briefly. The difference they made.

My own union, the BCGEU, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. These six short, beautifully made videos describe the history of our union. I'm proud to carry its tradition.

BCGEU100 Series #1: Neither Servant Nor Civil
A strong beginning, a dip and almost death... and renewal.

BCGEU100 Series #2: From Begging to Bargaining
Things get militant. The NDP forms the BC govt,
and provincial workers win collective bargaining rights.

BCGEU100 Series #3: Defending Public Services
How we fight for public services and public good.
Plus wildcat strikes and workplace takeovers! Be still my heart.
(But a general strike was called off... to great detriment.)

BCGEU100 Series #4: Growing the Union
The union adapts and changes as times demand.
It decides to continue to represent members who have been
driven into the private sector -- and by doing so, gains diversity and strength.

BCGEU100 Series #5: Diversity and Equity in our Union
Diversity, equity, representative leadership, and equal pay.
"We still have a long way to go, but each step forward makes us stronger."

BCGEU100 Series #6: Campaigning for Justice
How we fight for justice.
Unions do more than fight for members. When unions win, we all win.

#elxn43: my (completely mundane) thoughts on the results

Since I posted my useless blather just before the recent Canadian federal election, I feel like I should weigh in on the outcome. My thoughts are not trenchant or incisive, but then, neither are the thoughts of 95 percent of the pundits out there, whether employed by CBC or writing independently on their own blog.

The NDP.  I'm sorry to see the party lose so many seats. We'll never know how much of that was attributable to racism, how much to the NDP's lack of preparation, and how much to Singh's weak performance in the House of Commons. Based on what I know of people and voting, I would say more of the first and second, and little of the third. But my completely nonscientific tiny-sample-size polling tells me many disaffected Dippers are going Green, and Jagmeet has to wear some of that.

I'm not into party politics, but I do want to have a strong choice on the left -- not just on climate change, but on all issues. I ask only two things of the NDP. One, be consistently and strongly in opposition to the Liberals and Conservatives, from a democratic socialist point of view. And two, invest resources in ridings other than the few enclaves already considered safe. This should not be an impossible dream. And yet.

Minority all the way. There was some good news in this election, for sure. I assumed we'd see a minority Liberal government, and I'm relieved that we did. I'm relieved to not have a majority government of any kind, and not a Conservative government of any kind.

Goodbye Mr. Bernier. The racist, xenophobic, radically regressive PPC did not win any seats, and Maxime Bernier is no longer an MP. Excellent news. I also support the party's right to exist and to speak freely. I'm disgusted by attempts from the left to shut the PPC out of the debate.

Hello Green voters. It's good to see the Greens gain ground, even though they are not my party of choice. I want to see more people vote for more parties that are not Liberal or Conservative.

Welcome back, Bloc. I also think the resurgence of the Bloc is healthy for democracy (although bad for the NDP). When I listen to the Bloc leader in translation -- not just now, but throughout my time in Canada -- I always admire them. With one important exception, of course: their racism and Islamophobia, hardly disguised by the label "secularism". I'd love to see the NDP represent democratic socialism as clearly and strongly as the Bloc Quebecois represents its constituents.

Electoral. Reform. Now. When I look at the colour chart and look at the popular vote, I have a renewed resolve to work on electoral reform in some way. I don't know what I can do, beyond supporting Fair Vote Canada, but there must be something.

We moved to BC in the middle of a referendum on election reform, and weren't eligible to vote in it. Now I've seen two referenda of this kind, one in Ontario and one in BC. Both were massive campaigns, and both failed. I believe we should keep trying. Huge electoral change won't happen overnight. We must keep working for this. But how?

Thank you, Vancouver Island. And finally, I am grateful for the good people of Vancouver Island, where we remain staunchly orange with a touch of green.


#elxn43: the choice is clear, as always: progressives who vote liberal are not progressive at all

Jagmeet Singh marching with striking hotel workers
in Vancouver.
For weeks now, I've ignored all commentary and punditry about the upcoming Canadian federal election. I feel that literally no one has anything new or interesting thing to say.

I ignored polls for weeks, too, knowing that they are pretty much proven to be bullshit every time out. But a few days ago, I caved, and now anxiously check seat projections daily, as if they mean anything -- but knowing they do not.

It's all beyond predictable.

Calls for us to vote so-called strategically, casting blame and shame on anyone who wants something different. Dire warnings about so-called vote splitting -- the term itself worthy of derision, as if Liberal and NDP voters all want the same thing, as if the parties are actually the same. As if we're somehow divvying up the votes, as opposed to, you know, voting. Perhaps we should talk about vote-splitting between the Tories and the Liberals.

In BC, where everyone hates the Liberals, the Conservatives are scaremongering about the NDP. In all provinces, the Liberals are scaremongering about the Conservatives, while they peddle their false centrism.

And so many people spending their precious, measly little vote by trying to predict what other people will do! So many people not voting for what they want, and instead falling for the biggest self-fulfilling scam of them all.

Our awesome MP
I don't know if we're about to see a Liberal minority or a Conservative minority. And although I don't want Andrew Scheer to become Prime Minister, I cannot and will not vote for the pipeline-buying, corporate-loving, environment-killing, indigenous-hating, lying, duplicitous, unprincipled Trudeau Liberals.

Most right-thinking Canadians don't want Canada to mimic the United States. Yet they continue to believe that there are only two parties worthy of their vote, rather than building a movement for something better.

Not this voter. Not now, not ever.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: awil'gola open house: celebrate first nations communities at the library

On Thursday, October 24, the Port Hardy Library will host Awil'gola Open House, a celebration of local Indigenous cultures.

Awil'gola is a Kwak'wala word loosely translated as "in celebration", "being with one another", or "all being together". We will be celebrating beautiful new Cultural Literacy Kits focusing on the Kwakwaka'wakw, the Kwak'wala-speaking peoples.

At the Awil'gola Open House, we'll unveil and launch these new kits. Members of the Kwakiutl Nation will demonstrate button-blanket making and cedar weaving, and students from the Gwa'sala-Nakwaxda'dw School will perform traditional drumming and dancing. There will be refreshments and prize draws – 10 children will each win a Kwak'wala-themed colouring book.

Cultural Literacy Kits are a learning experience in a box. Along with books, they may contain DVDs, CDs, or learning games and puzzles. Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has many Cultural Literacy Kits in our collection, celebrating languages and cultures from around the world, all of which have helped shape Canada, and who continue to contribute to our multicultural world.

These new Kwak'wala Cultural Literacy Kits have an interesting history. In recent years, VIRL has been proud to participate in reconciliation, through programs like Read for Reconciliation and the Indigenous Voices series.

In Port Hardy, we reached out to members of the Indigenous community, especially those involved in literacy and education. We asked how we could better serve these communities, and we got together to discuss the possibilities.

VIRL already had two Kwak'wala kits. The local group thought they were great, and recommended ways we could make them even better.

VIRL was excited about the possibilities. It was decided not only to update the materials in the kit, but to increase the number of kits from two to nine. We consulted with educators and publishers to choose books, puzzles, puppets, and other materials. The new kits celebrate the history, strength, and resiliency of the Kwak'waka'kw. It also walks the path of reconciliation, teaching about the Residential School System, the trauma it caused, and the healing that continues.

Each Kwak'wala Cultural Literacy Kit features a selection of relevant books, a puppet, a wooden puzzle, and an educational card game, plus a colouring book, a CD of traditional music, and a DVD of "Potlatch – To Give", a movie by the celebrated Indigenous filmmaker Barbara Cranmer.

The U'mista Cultural Centre generously donated copies of the Kwak'wala-language edition of Love You Forever, by Canadian children's author Robert Munsch.

I hope that families from all backgrounds will borrow a Kwak'wala Cultural Literacy Kit to learn and explore. And I hope you'll join us for the Awil'gola Open House – all celebrating together.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: computer help in port alice, woss... and everywhere

These days, basic computer skills are as essential as knowing how to boil water. Whether it's sending an email, using Skype to chat with a grandchild, or taking care of banking, computers have great potential to make our lives easier. Sometimes, computer use is a necessity. When the residents of Port Alice learned that their bank branch was closing, many people realized they should learn how to bank online.

But how are we expected to acquire these skills? Despite what you may hear, no one is born knowing how to use a computer. If you're already an adult, finished with school, and perhaps retired, who is going to teach you?

The public library, that's who.

The Port Alice branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) is offering a special opportunity for computer education. Working with the Mt. Waddington Health Network, Mt. Waddington Community Futures, and the Village of Port Alice, the Library is holding free computer learning sessions for adults.

Adults who register in advance will work on either a desktop or laptop computer, or a tablet, and get hands-on instruction from our Community Support Technician. We'll focus on whatever that individual wants to learn. For some people, that will mean setting up an email account to stay in touch with family. For others, online banking is the most pressing concern. Someone else may want to write a letter using a basic word-processing program.

Each person will set their own goals and learn at their own pace. Learning can be stressful, but we try to make it as stress-free and fun as possible. Remember, at the Library, there are no stupid questions. Ask, ask, ask.

These computer learning sessions take place in the Port Alice Community Centre. The Village of Port Alice has generously allowed us to use the space at no cost. We're using the Community Centre's computers, plus more laptops and tablets supplied by VIRL. The good folks at Community Futures are handling the registration. And thanks to the Health Network, we're all moving together in the same direction.

If you live in Port Alice and feel that you would benefit from some computer learning, get in touch! The Port Alice Library can give you all the information. We're beginning a similar program in Woss, too, at the town's Community Hall. Ask at the library and we'll get you started.

If you already have some computer skills and you want to learn more – or you can't make it to any of the classes -- the Library can help in two different ways.

First: books. Some people learn best by reading. VIRL has dozens of titles that can help you learn more about using a computer. There's even a whole series of books written specifically for seniors. Check out the catalog at virl.bc.ca > learn > learn computers or ask any of our friendly and knowledgeable staff.

If you're more of a visual learner, try Lynda.com. Lynda contains hundreds of instructional videos taught by professionals and experts. You can work at your own pace and build up to more advanced skills as you go along. Like everything in our Library, it's free to use with your library card. You find it in the same place: virl.bc.ca > learn > learn computers, then scroll down for Lynda.com.

Have fun and good luck!


listening to joni: #10: mingus

Mingus, 1979

Mingus is unique in Joni's work, in that she wrote lyrics to someone else's instrumental music. Four of the six tracks on Mingus were written collaboratively by Joni and Charles Mingus.

Charles Mingus was a jazz composer and band leader. He was enormously influential, and anyone following contemporary jazz music would have known his work. But it's doubtful whether in 1979 most Joni Mitchell fans even knew his name, let alone recognized his music.

In the late 1970s, Mingus had ALS and was failing physically. He reached out to Joni, and they began a long-distance friendship. After about a year, he asked Joni to write lyrics to a group of songs he had composed.

The full story of how the collaboration began is more complex, but it wasn't known at the time. Mingus died before the album was finished, although he did hear finished versions of most of the songs.

Mingus is another step on the jazz path Joni began with Court and Spark, and which became a greater part of her music with each album since. It turned out to be Joni's last jazz album.

Mingus will never be my favourite Joni album, but I do like it, and of course I admire Joni's willingness to follow her musical star wherever it led her. When I listen to this album, I find myself focusing almost exclusively on Joni's voice and the lyrics, and almost not hearing the other instruments, keeping them well in the background.

The music behind the lyrics is abstract and challenging. There's a wash of soft sounds, over-buzzy echoing bass lines, and Joni's own guitar, unmistakable, but more restrained and minimalist than we've ever heard her before. I listen to a lot of jazz, but this kind of abstract fusion is not my thing.

The most unusual piece on the album is one of the two that Joni composed: "The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey". On a blog called "Ethan's Greats," I found this wonderful description.
"The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey" is a battle between furious plucks of a bass, playing at a different tune of the acoustic guitar that plays high and low at once, and the hand drums that beat, well, to their own drum, appropriately. Mitchell, though past the age in which a listener could tell her voice was going, soars to old vocal heights – "Of the darkness in men's minds/ what can you say/ that wasn't marked by history," she ponders and sort of tells a story of the men and their darknesses, wandering the streets, as well as of Lindsey, who finds her own darkness expressed within. There is one more instrument combining here as well – howls of wolves, used as a composition that actually complements all the desultory elements. "The Wolf" isn't the sort of song that you can pull out of a jazz record and turn into a standard, but it is one that takes hold reflecting the uncertainty and mystery of the world and wanders gorgeously with its consciousness into the dark. The guitar, the howls, the voice, the deep pluck of that bass awaken something – fear and sadness living simultaneously with sensuality.
For me, the most memorable song on Mingus is a jazz standard, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," written by Charles Mingus in 1959, about the late, great Lester Young. In her lyrics, written 20 years after Young's death, Joni doesn't pretend she knew Lester Young. She doesn't try to write his eulogy. She boldly states her perspective in the opening line.
When Charlie speaks of Lester...
That line says so much. Joni has only recently become part of the jazz scene. She's not presuming or pretending. She's telling you about a Lester Young that she knows through Charles Mingus.

Back Cover
The song is about racism – the racism Young faced as a musician, and about the anger he encountered when he married a white woman.

Sue Graham Mingus, Charles Mingus' wife, was also white. Joni herself was harshly criticized – and accused of racism – for following her musical journey into supposedly Black territory.
...When the bandstands had a thousand ways
Of refusing a black man admission
Black musician
In those days they put him in an
Underdog position
Cellars and chitlins'

When Lester took him a wife
Arm and arm went black and white
And some saw red
And drove them from their hotel bed
Love is never easy
It's short of the hope we have for happiness
Bright and sweet
Love is never easy street!
The song also includes this beautiful New York City moment.
We came up from the subway
On the music midnight makes
To Charlie's bass and Lester's saxophone
In taxi horns and brakes
In "Sweet Sucker Dance," Joni revisits a familiar theme in yet another new way. She wonders if she can let herself do the "sweet sucker dance" – fall in love – again. She admits she "almost closed the door" because "the shadows had their way".
Inside Cover
They'd turn my heart against you
Since I was fool enough
To find romance
I'm trying to convince myself
This is just a dance

We move in measures
Through loves' changing faces
Needy and nonchalant
Greedy and gracious
Through petty dismissals
And grand embraces
Like it was only a dance

We are survivors
Some get broken
Some get mended
Some can't surrender
They're too well defended
Some get lucky
Some are blessed
And some pretend
This is only a dance

We're dancing fools
You and me
Tonight it's a dance of insecurity
It's my solo
While you're away
And shadows have the saddest thing to say
Joni asks, "Am I a sucker to love you?" The song answers the question Joni-style. While it may be sad to think that falling in love is a "sucker dance," it's also sweet, and it's inevitable, and it's part of life, because sometimes the shadows have had their way.

Another song on Mingus that I like is "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines". The singer meets the Iowa man in a casino, where he is cleaning up.
He got three oranges
Three lemons
Three cherries
Three plums
I'm losing my taste for fruit! ...

Des Moines was stacking the chips
Raking off the tables
Ringing the bandit's bells
This is a story that's a drag to tell
(In some ways)
Since I lost every dime
I laid on the line
But the cleaner from Des Moines
Could put a coin
In the door of a John
And get twenty for one
It's just luck!
I read this as a lighthearted take on the random chance of everything. Perhaps Mingus, dying while possessing the full force of his talent, was feeling the random chance of the universe particularly sharply just then.

Mingus also includes interludes that the album cover calls "raps" – five short sound clips of Charles Mingus talking and joking around with the session musicians. These can be unnecessary distractions or amusing insider views, depending on how you're listening. They were not planned. Sue Mingus made the session tapes available to Joni and she decided to pull out clips for the album. They are the last recordings Charles Mingus made.

Inside Cover
Bad critic comment of the album

I had remembered this album being very badly received, and some bizarre accusations being hurled at Joni. When I look for that now, however, I find very little of it. Most of the reviews and features collected here on the jonimitchell.com are very positive.

I don't know if those stories just aren't online, or if I'm misremembering or unknowingly exaggerating what I read at the time.

What I remember is Joni accused of what is now called cultural appropriation: Joni was "trying to be black". She was trashed for being a jazz novice and dilettante – a kind of "how dare she" collaborate with a Jazz Great like Mingus.

These are just about the stupidest things you can say about a musician – about any artist – and even stupider when we consider that Mingus reached out to Joni, and not the other way around. (Although if she had reached out to him, or any other musician, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that.)

There are many tributes to this album online, celebrating both its music and its lyrics. Cameron Crowe did this wonderful interview in Rolling Stone (I remember reading it in real time) (really, I do), and a few months later, the album was panned in the same venue.

The most idiotic critic comment I found was in a university newspaper. I normally don't trash novice writers, but the evidence here is too good to pass up. I'm also including it because it's typical of what I remember reading at the time.
I've nothing against an established artist trying to break away from the stuff they've already done so that they might "advance their art," but I protest against artsy experiments in areas where a particular artist has no business being.
Yep, a guy in college is passing judgment on where Joni Mitchell "has business being".
Though the music and lyrics jell [sic] better this time than on her previous Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (a bottomless pit of amorphous atonalism and free-associative lyrics that expressed the forgettable in terms of the incomprehensible)...
You just know he was dying to get this line in, something he thought of for the previous album and didn't get a chance to publish. I'll be generous and assume he would now find that line embarrassing.

The album cover

If you like Joni's painting, the Mingus cover art is a treat – four pieces on this one album.

On the front cover, there's an abstract expressionist painting, and if you look closely, you'll see a figure in a wheelchair (from behind), and a long-legged, female figure, sitting, possibly at a piano, her arm raised, hand on head. Interestingly, the painting is not the full cover. The painting is in the centre of the cover, framed by white space, with the album and artist's names above and below. This serves to make the cover more minimalist – which is what you'll find inside, music that is abstract and minimal.

Inside, there's an expressionist portrait of Mingus as big, clumsy, immobile, possibly paralyzed. But he also seems deified, like some of kind of ancient god descending from the heavens.

Also inside, there's another slightly abstract, slightly cubist portrait of Mingus, with Joni beside and behind him, smiling, but unseeing. It's a painted version of a lovely photo that you can see here.

On the back cover, Joni has painted Charles Mingus in his wheelchair, from behind, on a front porch or veranda with a sweeping view. It might be a sad and lonely picture, or perhaps just contemplative.

Cacti or stockings?

Naturally there are no cactus or stockings in this album, as the lyrics are not about Joni. I wonder, is the age of cacti and stockings behind us? Does she do that on any of the later albums? We shall see.

Now it can be told

David Yaffe, in Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, revealed the genesis of the Mingus-Mitchell collaboration. This excerpt, published in Jazz Times, credits Sue Graham Mingus – Mingus's wife, a record producer, band manager, and former editor – with the idea. She was casting around for a fitting final project for Mingus, an outsize talent who was dying. It seems more marketing decision than a musician's desire to connect.

This bit has stayed with me.
When she first met Mingus, he was already in a wheelchair, facing the Hudson River. He had not yet lost his ability to provoke. "That song 'Paprika Plains,'" he told her. "The strings are out of tune." Mingus was testing Joni, but she adored him immediately and, of course, agreed with him about the strings on "Paprika Plains." She wished someone else had noticed. Illness had made Mingus vulnerable. He was sweet, but she saw the devil in him, too. Joni takes pride in her jive detector, and she knew she was in the presence of the real thing.
Other musicians on this album

For the "other musicians" section on this album, I'm using Joni's own liner notes.
The first time I saw his face it shone up at me with a joyous mischief. I liked him immediately I had come to New York to hear six new songs he had written for me. I was honored! I was curious! It was as if I had been standing by a river – one toe in the water – feeling it out – and Charlie came by and pushed me in – "sink or swim" – him laughing at me dog paddling around in the currents of black classical music.

Time never ticked so loudly for me as it did this last year. I wanted Charlie to witness the project's completion. He heard every song but one – GOD MUST BE A BOOGIE MAN. I know it would have given him a chuckle. Inspired by the first four pages of his autobiography – Beneath The Underdog – on the night of our first meeting – it was the last to actually take form – two days after his death.

This was a difficult but challenging project. I was trying to please Charlie and still be true to myself. I cut each song three or four times. I was after something personal – something mutual – something indescribable. During these experimental recording dates, I had the opportunity to play with some great musicians. I would like to thanks them here – they helped me to search.

Eddie Gomez - Bass
John Guerin - Drums
Phil Woods - Alto Sax
Gerry Mulligan - Baritone Sax
Danny Richmond - Narration
Tony Williams - Drums
John McLaughlin - Guitar
Jan Hammer - Mini Moog
Stanley Clark - Bass

I would especially like to thank Jeremy Lubbock for helping me to overcome inertia. And thank you Daniel Senatore for introducing my music to Charlie. Thanks to everyone who played on the final sessions. These versions satisfy me. They are audio paintings.

Sue Graham-Mingus graciously gave me access to the tapes I have interspersed throughout the album. For me they add a pertinent resonance. They preserve fragments of a large and colorful soul.

Charles Mingus, a musical mystic, died in Mexico, January 5, 1979 at the age of 56. He was cremated the next day. That same day, 56 sperm whales beached themselves on the Mexican coastline and were removed by fire. These are the coincidences that thrill my imagination.

Sue, at his request – carried his ashes to India and finding a place at the source of the Ganges River, where it ran turquoise and glinting with large gold carp, released him, with flowers and prayers at the break of a new day.

Sue and the holy river
Will send you to the saints of jazz –
To Duke and Bird and Fats –
And any other saints you have.