Joni Mitchell is widely considered one of the most influential songwriters of all time. She's a folk legend who crafts timeless songs that are deeply moving and have made a big impression on many of the creative individuals we've hosted on the Guest DJ Project. This special episode brings together some of their stories, including Megan Mullaly, David Sedaris, Lisa Cholodenko, Jamie Lee Curtis and Martin Short. (Hosted by Eric J. Lawrence) Image of "Blue" courtesy of Amazon.
Joni Mitchell special edition tracklist:
1. "Blue" - Megan Mullaly
2. "Hejira" - David Sedaris
3. "Car on the Hill" - Lisa Cholodenko
4. "California" - Jamie Lee Curtis
5. " For Free" - Martin Short
Eric J Lawrence: Joni Mitchell is widely considered one of the most influential songwriters of all time: a folk legend who crafts timeless songs with evocative, soul-baring lyrics and sophisticated musical arrangements. Her music is deeply moving and made a big impression on many of the creative individuals we’ve hosted over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. We’ve gathered some of their stories for this special edition of the show, starting with actress Megan Mullally, of Will & Grace fame. She chose the title track of “Blue”, which has been called the greatest relationship album of all time.
Megan Mullaly: I was very young when I first heard this, 12 or 13, that tender age. I remember I had a record player, I would put this record on after hours when I was supposed to be sleeping and I would put it on very low. I would lie in my bed and just think, here it comes, here it comes. Then when the song would come on I would go into just a trance state. I’d be teleported away from the cares of pre-pubescence. This was the first song that really made me have to stop and think about what the hell is she saying? What are these lyrics? I found it all so moving and ephemeral and mysterious and beautiful. I think it was the first song that had a major, major impact on me.
*Song: Joni Mitchell – Blue*
Eric: When you were a kid listening to this song on your record player, and sort of dreaming of future activities. Did you see yourself as singer primarily? Where did acting fall into that?
Megan: I never thought much about acting, I started out singing and I sometimes have said sometimes that I came out of the womb in a top hat and tap shoes. There’s an element of that, but I would say it would be a very sensitive top hat and a delicate pair of tap shoes. I always loved sad songs the most. I would always sing them and work through my emotions by singing them, and I still do that.
Eric: Best-selling author and humorist David Sedaris is known for his sardonic wit and keen social observations. He takes us back to when he discovered Joni Mitchell for the first time, in the mid-70s…with the album “Hejira.”
David Sedars: I went off to college, and I made friends and they all listened to Joni Mitchell -- which wasn't the kind of music that I ever listened to. But this was my, sort of introduction to her and I guess it just spoke to me. At the time. I was maybe 20 years old and it's an album about constantly moving and traveling.
Joni Mitchell is, she's not just traveling, she's moving through a series of relationships and I had never had a relationship at that point. I mean I had a…I longed to have one…and all my ideas of how that relationship would be, came from this album. And I hoped that when I had a relationship, it would end poorly and I would be hurt and devastated and create art from it. Plus, I was hitchhiking across the country and staying in cheap hotels so it was sort of like a…such a young-person's sort of like a romantic young person's life. But I had everything except the person to be romantic with and I think Joni Mitchell made me realize that something was missing.
And she made me want to hurt. Boy, I listened to this record. I put holes in this record. Just over and over and over and over again. I still think the writing on that record is really good. I mean, you've got to hand it to Joni Mitchell….
*Song: Joni Mitchell - Hijera*
Eric: A native Canadian, Joni settled in southern California in the mid 60’s, becoming one of the most iconic figures of the SoCal singer-songwriter boom and helping to define an era. award-winning director – and L.A. native -- Lisa Cholodenko felt she captured it perfectly.
Lisa Cholodenko: “Court And Spark” was one of those records that you never forget. I was like 11 or 12 when I was exposed to it, and I just immediately kind of fell in love with Joni Mitchell's voice and vibe.
When I think about that song, I realize that it was the first time, having grown up in L.A., that I could feel a sense of place where I was raised. "Car On The Hill" was expressly about climbing up the hill and I knew that it was Laurel Canyon. And I had never really thought about it in contextual way, like what is Laurel Canyon and who lives up there, and had any kind of fantasia about it, but this song kind of like just galvanized this thinking, this kind of meditation on place.
And on time. I really felt the spirit of the time that it was recorded, which was the mid ‘70's and how people behaved and what the kind of zeitgeist was.
*Song: Joni Mitchell – Car On The Hill*
Eric: Actress Jamie Lee Curtis also grew up in Los Angeles and felt a strong connection to Joni’s work, particularly the track “California,” which kept her going through a difficult time in her life.
Jamie Lee Curtis: I went for my senior year of high school to a prep school in Connecticut. I was a girl from Beverly Hills, I had frosted hair, bell bottoms jeans, little French t-shirts, no bra, corkys. I walked into the dorm in this prep school and there was a girl sitting in straight leg cords, Brooks Brothers striped shirt, down vest, Monet Love Knot earrings, plaid ribbon in her hair, duck boots, smoking a Marlboro Red in the lounge of this dorm that I had just arrived in with my trunk and my glasses on top of my hair.
And this girl was smoking this cigarette and she took a drag on her cigarette and went “You Tony Curtis’ daughter?” And I looked at her and I went “Uh huh.” And she went (inhales), “We heard you were coming.”
And from that moment, I was miserable. I was so homesick and I couldn’t come home and Joni Mitchell’s “California” I played on my stereo in my room over and over and over again. It was my connection to my home. And I can’t tell you what it did to hear that song when I was so far away from home.
*Song: Joni Mitchell – California*
Eric: Even though Joni embodies California to so many, her fellow Canadians proudly claim her as their own. We revisit the folk poet’s 1970 classic album “Ladies of the Canyon” with our final guest, comedian Martin Short.
Martin Short: I’m a huge Joni Mitchell fan. She’s a Canadian artist from Saskatchewan, the province of Saskatchewan, and of course I’m Canadian.
The song is Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” from her album “Ladies of the Canyon”. It’s an amazing song. You just listen to the lyrics and you’re taken right into the story of her basically seeing a husker on the corner playing his clarinet and she starts reflecting on how much she gets paid, how much attention is given her, her fabulous life, and yet, she’s hearing a guy playing what she thinks is just equally or, if not, better music, and yet, no one’s stopping to pay attention to him.
Eric: Is there something about Canadian music that those of us in the U.S. might miss?
Martin: For years, I was always asked, ‘Why are there so many people in comedy from Canada?’ and I used to think, ‘Well, the arts have no border.’
I did acknowledge that maybe the Canadian sensibility is looser or we’re like the middle sibling of three kids and, you know, you got the elegant kind of Hugh Grant England and you got George Clooney to the south and we’re kind of maybe a little overweight, but still we’re hip and we can make fun of both of you. And so, but, but in music I really doesn’t really have a tremendous border, I think Joni came from Folk and then went into Rock and then Jazz and I think that her music was borderless.
*Song: Joni Mitchell – For Free*
Eric J. Lawrence: Thanks so much for listening to this special edition of the Guest DJ Project. To hear the full Guest DJ sets from the contributors to this show, go to kcrw.com/guest-dj- project and subscribe to the podcast through itunes.