some thoughts on joni mitchell, for her 73rd birthday

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This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

If Joni Mitchell never broke your heart, you maybe never even had one to begin with.

No one can make you feel like Joni Mitchell can. Her words fill your body with both immense, overwhelming joy and sorrow. They make tears sting your eyes, make you gasp for breath, make you feel the weight of them in your gut.

Nowhere can this be seen better than side B of Blue, perhaps one of the most perfectly sequenced and emotionally loaded sides of any album, ever. She coats her jagged lyrics with a syrupy sweet voice; her songs are sugar dusted knives — they stab at your heart, but they’re addictive. You still crave more, still can’t wait to flip the record and start all over, knowing full well how much it will hurt. Why else do you think we feel the compulsive need to listen to “River” around Christmastime?

Joni made it okay for women to be imperfect creatures, to write about their faults and failures with candor — I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad— made it okay for women to be unhappy and unsure — I’m just living on nerves and feelings with a weak and a lazy mind. Joni made it okay to make mistakes, to love deeply, to love the wrong person because sometimes your heart speaks louder than your brain — I see him in cafes, and I only say hello and turn away before his lady knows how much I want to see him. She made it okay to be honest. She made it okay to feel.

All human beings should be required to listen to Joni Mitchell, the same way we all have to read The Great Gatsby in the 8th grade. I can’t imagine a better way to learn about empathy, emotions, and the human condition. We should teach her lyrics the way we teach poetry (because lyrics are literature), should teach the significance of her unique chord progressions in music classes, should teach her impact and the multiple roads she paved for women in history classes.

We should teach our children about Joni Mitchell because she is Joni Mitchell. There was no one before her, and there will never be another one.

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