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Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark (33 1/3) Paperback – December 20, 2006


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Product Details

  • Series: 33 1/3 (Book 40)
  • Paperback: 126 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic (December 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826417736
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826417732
  • Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 0.4 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #353,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"And what do we have here? A short book by Sean Nelson. And who is this Nelson? The man is a singer (most notably for Harvey Danger) and a writer (most notably for ). Until two years ago, he was an associate editor for the paper that's now in your hands (or on your screen), and since the mid-'90s, his career has vacillated between the poles of full-time singing and full-time writing. The new book is something of a synthesis: Nelson writes about music, or more precisely, the musician Joni Mitchell.
The book is part of the 331/3 series published by Continuum. Each book in this series has a writer focusing on an album that arguably plays an important role in the development of pop music since the '60s. In this case, that album is , which Nelson argues is the peak of Joni Mitchell's peak period1971 to 1975.One of Nelson's approaches is to establish a phrase, a figure/fixture of speech, and then, with a timing that can only be caught by the ear of a good musician (or comedian, or pastor), repeats that figure with an effect that's often at once echoic, humorous and sad. One of the examples of this involves Van Gogh's But the most fascinating (and revealing) aspect of this book is not its substance (the apprenticeship of the author) or its structure (novelistic) but that it treats Mitchell's album (or the albums that make up her most creative period) not like music, nor even like poetry, but like a novel.

Nelson writes: "I've attempted a critical appreciation of the record from the lyrics outward...Because that's how I enter music, and that's what I am most taken by when I listen to music." The reason Nelson picked by Joni Mitchell as the subject of his first book is because he wanted to write not just about songwriting but writing itself. What page after page of Court and Spark makes abundantly clear is that when Nelson is not writing he is not doing what he does best."

(Charles Mudede, The Stranger)

“And what do we have here? A short book by Sean Nelson. And who is this Nelson? The man is a singer (most notably for Harvey Danger) and a writer (most notably for ). Until two years ago, he was an associate editor for the paper that’s now in your hands (or on your screen), and since the mid-'90s, his career has vacillated between the poles of full-time singing and full-time writing. The new book is something of a synthesis: Nelson writes about music, or more precisely, the musician Joni Mitchell.
The book is part of the 331/3 series published by Continuum. Each book in this series has a writer focusing on an album that arguably plays an important role in the development of pop music since the '60s. In this case, that album is , which Nelson argues is the peak of Joni Mitchell’s peak period1971 to 1975.One of Nelson’s approaches is to establish a phrase, a figure/fixture of speech, and then, with a timing that can only be caught by the ear of a good musician (or comedian, or pastor), repeats that figure with an effect that’s often at once echoic, humorous and sad. One of the examples of this involves Van Gogh’s But the most fascinating (and revealing) aspect of this book is not its substance (the apprenticeship of the author) or its structure (novelistic) but that it treats Mitchell’s album (or the albums that make up her most creative period) not like music, nor even like poetry, but like a novel.

Nelson writes: “I’ve attempted a critical appreciation of the record from the lyrics outward…Because that’s how I enter music, and that’s what I am most taken by when I listen to music.” The reason Nelson picked by Joni Mitchell as the subject of his first book is because he wanted to write not just about songwriting but writing itself. What page after page of Court and Spark makes abundantly clear is that when Nelson is not writing he is not doing what he does best.”

(Sanford Lakoff)

About the Author

Sean Nelson is a writer and musician in Seattle, and is a partner in independent label Barsuk Records.

Customer Reviews

I was a little bit shocked at the obvious lack of editorial oversight here.
D. Boon
While the book is about the album, it really gets at why it was such an important record for women when it was, lensed through Nelson and his mom's experience of it.
Jessica Hopper
I would suggest reading the book while listening to the album, but don't put it on until about page 41.
moviegal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By s.ferber on September 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
What a great idea Continuum Publishing has going with its 33 1/3 series: little books dealing with some of the greatest records of the past four decades, each one lovingly written by a different author, and each functioning, in essence, as a 120+-page collection of liner notes for those priceless albums. First on the list, for me, of the 50+ titles in the series so far, was No. 40: Sean Nelson's thoughts on Joni Mitchell's 1974 masterpiece "Court and Spark," surely one of the greatest pop records of its decade, as well as Joni's most commercially successful album to date. It is quite obvious that Mr. Nelson, a Seattle-based writer and musician, is enormously fond of this classic, although he makes it very clear that he is not a member of Joni's "cult of devotees" who follow "wherever Mitchell leads." Rather, his fondness for the Big Mitch's music seemingly extends only up to the mid-'70s. (And this might be as opportune a moment as any to mention that I AM one of those "devotees" that Nelson sniffs at, and believe that Mitchell is not only the greatest Canadian who has ever lived, but also one of the world's foremost living artists, the ultimate nature girl, and a true Renaissance woman, all wrapped up in one yummy package. Anyway, you know where I'M coming from!) But Nelson seems to have done an inordinate amount of thinking about "Court and Spark," and manages to analyze the record's lyrics so deeply as to come up with insights that I'd never even considered before (and I've owned the record since the day of its release in January '74). For instance, Nelson convinces us, in his arguments, that the female character in "Car on a Hill" is most likely different than the one in "People's Parties" and "The Same Situation.Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. Compere on February 8, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this hoping the author would delve into the details of the production of this album, which stands out in the pop world (in the same way `Revolver' stands out as being a near-perfect gem) - I'm very interested in how Ms Mitchell comes up with her extraordinary words and sounds. However, this book doesn't go there - the author chooses instead to provide an exegesis of the sounds and words, a narrative that takes the reader through the album as if a single story (or possibly more than one story) was being told by Ms Mitchell. It's quite an effective approach, and allows the reader to enjoy "hearing" the album as if for the first time. You might not agree with the author's various opinions or conclusions about each song (I didn't, for example, on "Raised on Robbery"), but the journey is very rewarding.

The bad news is (a) the book ends, and (b) it will firmly put C&S tracks in your head in heavy rotation for days; the good news is the tracks are so inventive that you won't be bored.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By moviegal on December 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
If I had one gripe about the album Court and Spark, it would be that it is too short in length. But what in the world could one possibly change about it? It's an otherwise perfect piece of artistry in every way and has held up masterfully for over 30 years. Having said that, what an undertaking it must have been for someone born in 1973 to write a book (albeit a short one) on one of the most prolific pieces of pop music to come out of the 1970's?

Cleary, Court and Spark means a lot to Sean Nelson. He reveals how, as a child he observed his Mom turning up the song "Help Me" on her radio as they were driving down the road in (where else?) California. Mr. Nelson's obvious fondness for the record comes out in this book and this is a good thing. It doesn't prevent him from being critical where he feels the record wanes (most notably "Raised on Robbery"), and it certainly adds to the overall charm and insightfulness of the book.

On a personal note, I consider myself a Joni Mitchell freak, insofar as I know every stanza, verse, bridge, and word of exactly 3 Joni albums (C&S, Blue, and Hejira). The others I am passably familiar with, but they don't hold a permanent place in my album rotation like the aforementioned. I vacillate between which is my favorite of the three depending on season, mood, relationship status, which way the wind blows, etc. But one thing remains constant- Joni Mitchell was at the top of her game during this time, and no one deserves the honor of a book dedicated entirely to one of their works as much as she does.

OK- here's what I don't love about the book:
These are Mr. Nelson's interpretations of the songs. No one else's. You either agree with his conclusions, or you don't. I for one, agree with most of what he wrote.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. H Stutch on December 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"

First off let me say I am not a lyric person. If music is the hand then lyrics are the glove. A hand without the glove is still very useful - the glove without the hand?

That said this book delves deeply into the the lyrics - which are for the most part really great lyrics. I know them inside and out. And so I was a bit taken aback at the interpretation presented in this book. For in all my 100's of listenings to this album, never did I ever construe this as an introspective monolog that Joni was having with herself. I always identified with the observational aspects of CA living in the '70's. And in the greater context of Blue and the travails of being a folk singer surrounded and dating bona fide rockstars. So its very clear the author & I hear two different albums.

I look to identify with the songs themselves as a whole, while the author stops at identifying primarily the lyrics. A narrow trap. And what a lot of work made connecting all these words together! So analytical yet with so little emotion. It seems to be all about the words and so little about the music. So its a narrow viewpoint.

And the other nagging thread in this book is the incredible gravity given to assumptions into the artist's psyche. I am reminded of the scene in Annie Hall, where they are waiting to get into the movies. Behind them a Columbia professor is authoritatively yammering away about Marshal McCluhan. Woody gets so upset at the guy being so off base in his insights that he goes over and pulls out Mr McCluhan who says, "you have no idea what I am about. How you got to teach anything...".
So I gotta wonder, what would Joni say to the author about his book?
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Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark (33 1/3)
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