Making It To The Other Side, by Rich Paschall
Most generations seem to believe that the music of their youth was the best. Perhaps it is because we associate music with important times in our lives, that is dances, proms, graduations, weddings, and so on. You can likely recall the music hits from your teens and twenties decades after you first heard them. Radio stations and streaming services keep the music alive in our memories. How many times did you go to youtube to find an old music performance?
The mid-1960s to mid-1970s was a great time for singer-songwriters, at least it was in my memory. Carole King, Gordon Lightfoot, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Roger Miller, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell just to name a few. If you “Google” singer-songwriter lists I am certain you will find many more familiar names. It was an important time in music.
Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
Joni Mitchell was writing songs and playing coffeehouses in the mid-60s. Judy Collins recorded Mitchell’s song, “Both Sides Now,” for her 1967 album Wildflowers. It was released the following year as a single and climbed the Billboard Hot 100 to number 8. Mitchell included it on her 1969 album Clouds.
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
Joni Mitchell had a long and successful career in concerts and recordings. Seemingly it had already come to an end. She had not given a full-length concert since the year 2000. In March of 2015, she was found unconscious at her home, having suffered a brain aneurism. It robbed her of her ability to talk and walk. Recovery from such a thing is slow and difficult. Dr. Anthony Wang, a neurosurgeon at Ronald Reagan UCLA Hospital stated, “playing an instrument and vocal cord coordination, those sorts of things, are really, super complex fine movements that would take a long time to relearn.”
She said she got her speech back rather quickly but still struggles with walking. It is not the first time she had to relearn walking. She suffered from polio at age nine. In recent years it was not clear how well her recovery had gone. There were reports of “Joni Jams” in her living room by well know artists and friends, but was she really taking part in any of them?
Believing that she could recreate the Joni Jam at the Newport Folk Festival, Brandi Carlile told the head of the festival, Jay Sweet, in 2021 that she thought she could bring Mitchell to the festival in 2022. He thought it unlikely. According to Rolling Stone, Sweet told Carlile, “You are the manifester of miracles, but you may have overshot on this one.” Recovery to the point of walking out on stage, not to mention singing and playing an instrument, seemed an impossible dream.
Carlile’s time at the 2022 Folk Festival was advertised as “Brandi Carlile and Friends.” Only Brandi, the head of the Festival, and then her fellow performers knew of Carlile’s plan. She discussed it all with them in advance. Meanwhile, Mitchell was in the process of relearning everything. She stated she even had to relearn getting out of a chair.
As for playing guitar, she had not done that in public since she was 55. At 78 it seemed improbable she would play again. She had to watch herself in music videos to recall how she did it. No one knew if she would actually show up to turn Brandi’s time into a Joni Jam, but she came; she rehearsed; she conquered. When Brandi took the stage she was there to introduce a performer who had not been there since 1969. With some help, Joni Mitchell stunned the Newport audience and walked out to play a full set for the crowd. Seated in a semi-circle were Joni and her friends. Carlile’s job was master of ceremonies, ready to jump into the fray if needed. Joni held her own. Mitchell even stood to play guitar on “Just Like This Train,” which appeared on her 1974 album Court and Spark.
Reviewers have given high marks to Mitchell’s new interpretation of Both Sides Now. It is a rendering only age and experience can bring.
“Aging inherently brings suffering, debilitation, and loss — this is not news. What Mitchell’s 2022 performance of the song asserted was that it can also bring serendipity, long-delayed gratification, and joy.” – Lindsay Zoladz, The New York Times
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
Sources Include: “Joni Mitchell Reclaims Her Voice at Newport,” by Lindsay Zoladz, The New York Times, July 26, 2022.
“Both Sides Now,” by Joni Mitchell, jonimitchell.com © June 19, 1967
“Here’s why Joni Mitchell’s performance at the Newport Folk Festival is so incredible,” by Vanessa Romo, npr.org July 26, 2022.
“‘She Schooled Us All’: Inside Joni Mitchell’s Stunning Return to Newport Folk Festival,” by Jonathan Bernstein, rollingstone.com July 28, 2022.