138. Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”

Joni at her best.

When I was 9 and 10, I had a nanny named Erin. She was magical and creative and still feels like my big sister. Erin and my brother and I used to make up dances and make collages and come up with scavenger hunts. But perhaps the best thing Erin gave me was a love for “Blue” by Joni Mitchell. It has been my favorite album of all time since she introduced it to me.

The first week Erin was with us, she found my parents’ record collection. She was so excited. One of the first things she did was transfer “Blue” onto one side of a cassette tape (the other side was Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman“). We listened to nothing other than that tape every day in the car on the way to and from school and to our after-school activities.

“Blue” came out in 1971. It’s often considered Joni’s best album (yes, we’re on a first name basis). Her music  is not only hauntingly beautiful, but devastatingly complex. I’ve tried to play it on the banjo and the piano, and it’s just too hard for me.

My classic favorite song was always “California.” It’s upbeat and pretty and really showcases Joni’s voice. But, as I got older, I gained an appreciation for “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” a song Erin always skipped on our cassette tape.

Here are the lyrics:

The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ’68
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark café
You laugh he said you think you’re immune
Go look at your eyes they’re full of moon
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
When you gonna realize they’re only pretty lies
Only pretty lies just pretty lies

He put a quarter in the Wurlitzer and he pushed
Three buttons and the thing began to whirr
And a bar maid came by in fishnet stockings and a bow tie
And she said “Drink up now it’s getting’ on time to close”
“Richard, you haven’t really changed” I said
It’s just that now you’re romanticizing some pain that’s in your head
You got tombs in your eyes but the songs you punched are dreaming
Listen, they sing of love so sweet, love so sweet
When you gonna get yourself back on your feet?
Oh and love can be so sweet Love so sweet

Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright
I’m gonna blow this damn candle out
I don’t want nobody comin’ over to my table
I got nothing to talk to anybody about
All good dreamers pass this way some day
Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes dark cafes
Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings and fly away
Only a phase these dark café days

I love the lyrics and it is also just hauntingly beautiful.

Even though “The Last Time I Saw Richard” is my favorite song on the album, I shouldn’t forget some of the other greats. “My Old Man” is a great song (“But when he’s gone/me and them lonesome blues collide/the bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide”), as is “A Case of You” (I remember that time you told me you said/”Love is touching souls”/Surely you touched mine/’Cause part of you pours out of me/In these lines from time to time). This is incredibly cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to put out a birth announcement for a daughter quoting “Little Green”:

“Call her green and the winters cannot fade her

Call her green for the children who’ve made her

Little green, be a gypsy dancer.”

Oh, man. I can’t believe I just shared that on the internet.

Anyway, pretty much every song on this album is amazing. I listen to it all the time – on rainy days, it’s perfect. On sunny days? Still perfect. When I’m happy, when I’m sad, I need to listen to “Blue.” It always fits. It’s always perfect. Thank you, Joni. I love you, gurl.

November 14, 2012. Music, Rectangles, Truth.

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