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Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell's Blue Period Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 7, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Mercer (Footprints: The Life and Work of Wayne Shorter) covers the iconic folk maiden Joni Mitchell during her Blue period (roughly 1971 to '76) in what is part music criticism. The book covers the origin and meaning of Blue's songs in Mitchell's own words, her childhood and how her relationships with Graham Nash, Leonard Cohen and James Taylor shaped her music. As her first husband, Chuck Mitchell, said, There are a couple Joans... the literal girl, the prairie tomboy... the historical person, the narrative writer, and the queen—and this book reveals a bit of each of them. Written from a fan's perspective, this book is partly Mercer's own diary, the way Blue was partly Mitchell's diary. This is Mercer's love song to Mitchell, which aims it sometimes to an audience already well-versed in Mitchell history and lore. Whether new or old fans of Joni Mitchell, readers can appreciate the extensive research, and much of the book is in Mitchell's own words, including an entire chapter on her favorite things. (Apr.)
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From The New Yorker
The emotional depth of Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album “Blue” established a new standard for personal songwriting, attaining an artistry that Mitchell refined in a handful of influential records, culminating with “Hejira,” in 1976. Mercer attempts to explore Mitchell’s formative experiences and her creative process during this period, abetted by the coöperation of the usually unforthcoming singer. There are juicy tidbits in tales of Mitchell’s youth in western Canada; travels in Greece and across America; romances with Leonard Cohen, Graham Nash, James Taylor, and Sam Shepard; and a bracing encounter with the Tibetan monk Chögyam Trungpa. But Mitchell’s ability to articulate the sublime frequently reduces Mercer to a kind of fan-girl gush, and Mitchell herself, open and vulnerable in her art, comes across as prickly and contentious, convinced that she’s underappreciated, no matter how much praise she gets.
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Mitchell doesn't seem to like very much, that's part of the problem. Since the early days of living in Laurel Canyon, her emotional range has become somewhat stunted, and today seems fixed on a narrow compass that is bounded by contempt on the one side, and self-regard on the other. A little of this bile goes a long way, even if you love every note on For the Roses or Blue. And the focus often goes fuzzy, as the author spends pages and pages on whatever topic amuses her or catches her attention. Why so much about Loudon Wainwright? Mercer doesn't even pretend to link him to her subject. Well, maybe the whole book is about the cult of the "singer-songwriter," a sensitive bunch dominated by "Bob and Joni, the royalty of songwriting. And yet she yearns to claim even loftier status for Mitchell. Mercer, author of a well received book on Wayne Shorter wants to place Mitchell among the giants of jazz, which is great, but in that case why place so much emphasis on the "Blue" period?
Others have noticed that Mercer can get mean as her mentor when she feels like it. Her nasty attack on Carly Simon is one for the books, if only because it seems so--wait for it!--out of the "blue"! I was about to say, "What did Carly ever do to Joni?" but of course we all know the answer to that one... The bottom line is that our fascination with Joni is really all about difference--the vast chasm between the genius and warmth of her songwriting, and the utter coldness of her mind; oh, and there's another chasm too, for when she's good she's great, but when she's not so good, she's beyond belief, hilarious banal. That's part of the reason we love her. OK, maybe she's not cold. She explains to Michele Mercer that she can't remember proper names, so even when you've met her ten times she won't be able to recall your name, and that upsets you, so to avoid upsetting you she prefers avoiding you. Makes sense I guess.