Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter by Joni Mitchell


When I was at Royal Holloway College, between 1972 and 1975, I phone my parents every Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. There were two phones in Kingswood Hall of Residence and a queue built up before 6:00. Nobody made any phone calls before 6:00 because we were all waiting for the cheap rate to kick in. We all had our coins ready and I seem to remember that a 2p piece would suffice for a satisfactory call. My parents expected a call at that time and if, for some reason, I couldn’t make it, I would let them know.

When I moved into my flat in Harlow, I had a telephone installed The phone number was 01279 410299. How do I remember that? It is 28 years since that number was disconnected. Whenever the phone rang, there was no way of knowing who it was who was calling. I could be busy watching a crucial episode of “Grange Hill” when the phone would ring and I would never find out whether or not Gripper Stebson would get his commeuppance or not because someone else decided that it was convenient for them to speak to me. Every few months, I would pick up the phone and on the other end I would hear “Hello Mick. It’s Don here” and inwardly I would scream because I knew that the next hour of my life would be wasted listening to Don telling me which Bonnie Raitt records he had bought or how long his train journey to Basingstoke had taken. Of course, I was not immune from this thoughtlessness because I once phoned Robert to ask him if he could play cricket on the following weekend and he was aghast that I would phone at the time when he was about to find out who the father of Michelle Fowler’s baby was on “Eastenders”.

In “the current inconvenience”, having long phone conversations with my friends is an important way of keeping my sanity. This makes the spontaneous/planned issue quite important. Some people like to do things spontaneously. I am much happier with having everything planned. I like to make a hilarious joke every New Year by telling people that I am planning to be more spontaneous in the coming year. I’m aware that I am too fastidious in my need to have everything planned out in advance. If I were more happy with spontaneity, I believe that having everything in my calendar erased on March 23rd would have been easier for me to deal with. I could tell myself that something would turn up. What is happening now is that with some of my friends, I have regular phone calls at the same time each week. With other people, I will text to arrange a time to call over the next few days. With a few people, the same situation that I had with Don repeats. I can be doing something important, like watching episode 96 of Babylon 5 when my phone rings and I can see that it is one of my closest friends wanting a chat. Often, a long chat. Shamefully, there are times when I don’t pick up because I am too put out by the sudden change to my carefully planned evening. If I were more content with spontaneity, I wouldn’t be so pathetic. Of course, I am very lucky that I have a few friends who wish to talk to me and I need to plan to be more grateful.

“Talk To Me” is the second track on “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”. This is what Joni Mitchell said about the song. “Oh, ‘Talk To Me.’ It’s like, are we not an artistic community? Can’t we talk about art, painting, philosophy, history… Do we have to talk about [mimicking Dylan], ‘Are you still with the drummer? Does he get you off?’ Do you have to come close up with the camera on my lips and say [Dylan’s voice], ‘Say something about sex, Joni.’ So you know what I said? I’m not gonna say anything sexy. I’m gonna say something revolting. And it came to my mind, ‘Men fake coming,’ because you never hear that said. The cameras went down and every guy in the room went blank. That was the end of that.”

This is an excellent album and features more improvisation than is normally heard on any album, let alone one of Joni Mitchells’ It’s a double album and the whole of Side Two is taken up with a sixteen minute song called “Paprika Plains” which has improvised piano over a song concerning a conversation in a bar and a dream that she has about childhood and war. Here’s what she said about this song. “The improvisational, the spontaneous aspect of this creative process – still as a poet – is to set words to the music, which is a hammer and chisel process. Sometimes it flows, but a lot of times it’s blocked by concept. And if you’re writing free consciousness – which I do once in a while just to remind myself that I can, you know, because I’m fitting little pieces of this puzzle together – the end result must flow as if it was spoken for the first time.”

I have two favourite songs. One is “Jericho” in which she promises to lower her guard to let a new relationship bloom. “I’ll try to keep myself open up to you. That’s a promise that I made to love when it was new. “Just like Jericho” I said. “Let these wall come tumbling down”. I said it like I finally found the way to keep the good feelings alive. I said it like it was something to strive for.” Sounds like I should follow her example and let the walls of my planning tumble down and open myself up to more spontaneity.

In my other favourite song, “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, she has become more disillusioned with love. “If I’d only seen through the silky veils of ardor what a killing crime this love can be.” Both of these songs are beautiful. The singing is as emotional as one would expect from Joni Mitchell and the guitar playing is sublime. There are other more experimental songs on the album are fascinating: “The Tenth World” and “Dreamland” feature Brazilian drumming with the former being a six and a half minute instrumental.

Talking is good. The alternative is silence. “Is your silence that golden? Are you comfortable in it? Is it the key to your freedom Or is it the bars on your prison?”

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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