Chamblee54

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

Posted in Book Reports, History, Library of Congress, Music by chamblee54 on July 25, 2018


A few weeks ago, PG was at the library. He had a story to take home, before going over to the biography section. There he found Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell. At least with fiction, you know you are dealing with a made up story. With biography, you have to use judgment.

It is a familiar story. Joni was born in the frozen north, was a rebellious girl, and got pregnant. She gave up the daughter for adoption, only to be reunited many years later. Joan Anderson gets married to, and divorces, Chuck Mitchell. Joni sings, writes, tunes her guitar funny, becomes a star, gets too weird to be popular, makes and loses money, smokes millions of cigarettes, and becomes an angry old lady. There is a bit more to the story than that. Reckless Daughter fills in a few of the blank spots.

Millions of cigarettes might be an exaggeration. Joni started smoking when she was nine. When she was a star, she was almost as well known for her constant puffing as her pretty songs. When Joni was in a Reagan era slump, she was going through four packs a day. Just for the sake of statistics, lets call it two packs, or forty fags, a day. Multiply forty by 365 and you get 14,600. If she started at 9, and had her aneurysm at 72, that gives you 63 years of nicotine abuse. If you assume that there were forty fags a day for 63 years, that gives you 919,800 smokes. IOW, while seven figures is not out of reach, it is rather unlikely that Joni smoked more than 2,000,000 cancer sticks.

The author of Reckless Daughter, David Yaffe, is a problem. He talks about the mood of America in 1969, four years before he was born. Mr. Yaffe goes to great lengths to show us that he knows about making music. Some readers will be impressed. There are mini-essays on Joni songs from her golden years, the time between “Ladies of the Canyon” and “Hejira.” And gossip, gossip, and more gossip. Joni is well known for her celebrity lovers.

We should make the point that PG enjoyed Reckless Daughter. The inside stories are fun, and pages turn over without too much head scratching. Maybe this is a statement about the career of Joni Mitchell. You enjoy the music for many years, and then complain about the details. Reckless Daughter follows the trajectory of other celebrity biographies. The star is born, takes up a craft, gets a break, becomes successful, goes over the mountaintop into a long decline. With Joni, nothing after “Mingus” was well received. The chanteuse was broker, and angrier, by the minute.

On page 13, Joni hears Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This is the piece that makes her want to be a musician. One page 129, we learn the story of A&M studios in Hollywood. At one time, The Carpenters were in studio A, while Carole King was recording “Tapestry” in studio B. Joni was recording “Blue” in studio C, which had a magic piano. One time, Carole King learned of a break in the studio C booking, and ran in. Three hours later, “I feel the earth move” was recorded.

A few years later, Joni was on the Rolling Thunder tour with Bob Dylan. One of the concepts was support for Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whose story can be found elsewhere. Joni became disillusioned with Mr. Carter. When Joan Baez asked Joni to speak at a benefit concert, Joni said she would say that Mr. Carter was a jive ass N-person, who never would have been champion of the world. Joni later got in SJW trouble for posing in blackface, for the cover to “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.”

On page 251, we learn that Bob Dylan does not dance. Other items include “Free man in Paris” being written about David Geffen, and Jackson Browne writing “Fountain of Sorrow” about Joni. Mr. Brown is a not-well-thought-of ex of Joni. As for Mr. Geffen…. Joni stayed at his house for a while, at a time when Mr. Geffen was in, and out, of the closet. Did they make sweet music together?

So this book report comes to an end. Joni is recovering from a brain aneurysm, and will probably not produce anything else. The book is going back to the library, and PG will move on to something else. Pictures today are from The Library of Congress.

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  1. […] 1943, in Fort Macleod, Alberta. For this birthday tribute we will revisit four previous posts. one two three four Pictures are from The Library of Congress. … A facebook friend went on a Joni […]


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