Thank God for the public library. Here in Columbus, Ohio we have a particularly world-class one and during my years in college, I used it to fill the gaps in my musical awareness. Often times the music I owned from the artist I liked were the result of my having heard them on the radio or on MTV. If an album or song came before that mode of exposure, it was the library that was always there to help me fill in the gaps.
In the case of Joni Mitchell, I became a fan of hers during the beginning of her “modern’ period. It was a time where she begun to use synthesizers and would do studio tricks with her backing vocals. Mitchell set the standard for the singer-songwriter of the ’70s and ’80s, introducing poetry into the musical vernacular. Her poet image was refined as her music became more adventurous. Wild Things Run Fast was my initial point of entry to this era, but Blue would be where I realized why she was such a big deal during the ’70s.
At times Blue sounded like a poet with the backing of either a piano or guitar, just that simple and direct. The album made during a period of sadness over the sudden breakup with James Taylor, features direct heartfelt lyrics about pain and remorse. Mitchell literally poured her heart out on songs like “A Case of You” and “The Last Time I Saw Richard”. It’s all potentially heavy listening, except that the stark stripped down production gives it an oddly light feel. There were upbeat songs, most notably the album’s biggest hit “Carey” an almost conventional sounding acoustic pop song.
During the time I discovered the album from the library, Columbus was undergoing a prolonged period of rain. It seemed like it rained for a solid two weeks that May in 1990. I have come to associate Blue with spring in general. It’s not cold enough to be dead, but it’s not warm enough to be truly alive is how I see the faint gloom of Blue.
The associations Mitchell created with this laid back album run the gamut of hippie poster child to counter cultural industry model. While the rest of rock was gravitating toward more production heavy music, Mitchell went the opposite direction.
That along with her background as a poet and artist lent credence to her motives and she would soon become the leader in a post hippie movement. The intricate guitar work on Blue, with its shifting tones would become a basis for her later experimental work. While many would be flirting with disco in the years to come, Joni experimented with jazz, resulting in her ‘modern era’ music that would start my lifelong love affair with her music.