Will You Take Me As I Am
Joni Mitchell's Blue Period
By Michelle Mercer
(Free Press, Hardcover, 9781416559290, 256pp.)
Publication Date: April 7, 2009
Joni Mitchell is one of the most celebrated artists of the last half century, and her landmark 1971 album, Blue, is one of her most beloved and revered works. Generations of people have come of age listening to the album, inspired by the way it clarified their own difficult emotions. Critics and musicians admire the idiosyncratic virtuosity of its compositions. Will You Take Me As I Am -- the first book about Joni Mitchell to include original interviews with her -- looks at Blue to explore the development of an extraordinary artist, the history of songwriting, and much more.
In extensive conversations with Mitchell, Michelle Mercer heard firsthand about Joni's internal and external journeys as she composed the largely autobiographical albums of what Mercer calls her Blue Period, which lasted through the mid-1970s. Incorporating biography, memoir, reportage, criticism, and interviews into an illuminating narrative, Mercer moves beyond the "making of an album" genre to arrive at a new form of music writing.
In 1970, Mitchell was living with Graham Nash in Laurel Canyon and had made a name for herself as a so-called folk singer notable for her soaring voice and skillful compositions. Soon, though, feeling hemmed in, she fled to the hippie cave community of Matala, Greece. Here and on further travels, her compositions were freshly inspired by the lands and people she encountered as well as by her own radically changing interior landscape. After returning home to record Blue, Mitchell retreated to British Columbia, eventually reemerging as the leader of a successful jazz-rock group and turning outward in her songwriting toward social commentary. Finally, a stint with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and a pivotal meeting with the Tibetan lama ChÖgyam Trungpa prompted Mitchell's return to personal songwriting, which resulted in her 1976 masterpiece album, Hejira.
Mercer interlaces this fascinating account of Mitchell's Blue Period with meditations on topics related to her work, including the impact of landscape on music, the value of autobiographical songwriting for artist and listener, and the literary history of confessionalism. Mercer also provides rich analyses of Mitchell's creative achievements: her innovative manner of marrying lyrics to melody; her inventive, highly expressive chords that achieve her signature blend of wonder and melancholy; how she pioneered personal songwriting and, along with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, brought a new literacy to the popular song. Fans will appreciate the previously unpublished photos and a coda of Mitchell's unedited commentary on the places, books, music, pastimes, and philosophies she holds dear.
This utterly original book offers a unique portrait of a great musician and her remarkable work, as well as new perspectives on the art of songwriting itself.
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