One thing is becoming more and more obvious in the ongoing rearranging of the canon of popular music: Joni Mitchell’s intricate, emotional, intellectual, and constantly growing music is ranking higher than ever.
According to Rolling Stones’ most current list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, her 1971 album Blue came in at number three. As a result, musicians like Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Mitski, and Phoebe Bridgers have been mentioning her work for years. And more than any other 70 singer-songwriter could manage, Mitchell’s recent return to the stage at the Newport Folk Festival marked her first performance since suffering a nearly fatal aneurysm in 2015.
According to writer/director Cameron Crowe, who first spoke with Joni Mitchell for Rolling Stone in 1979 and recently spent time with her, Joni has a childlike awareness of what is happening right now. Few people who come so close to death have the experience she is having; she can truly picture what it would have been like for her to pass away and witness how her loved ones would have expressed their sorrow. And she finds it to be quite moving.
We examine how Mitchell became a hero to younger generations in the newest episode of Rolling Stone Music Now, among other things. (To listen to the entire episode, select Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or click the play button above.) While guitarist Larry Carlton discusses what it was like to perform with Mitchell on well-known Seventies albums like Court and Spark and Hejira, Crowe joins the program to talk about his legendary interview with Mitchell and his more recent interactions with her. Jonathan Bernstein provides a firsthand account of the Newport Folk Festival performance, including her heartbreaking take on Both Sides Now, while Angie Martoccio discusses the highlights of Mitchell’s discography (many of which will be captured in September’s The Asylum Years: 1972-1975 boxed set).
While Carlton talks about the creation of Amelia and other songs, he also mentions how Mitchell’s increasingly jazzy work in the 1970s puzzled some listeners but delighted him as a musician. He acknowledges that the listener was likely being tested, but I don’t believe that was Jon’s motivation. Similarly, it wouldn’t be my driving force. I believe she entered a state of creativity and decided, “This is how I’m feeling.” I want to write this right now. I could tell that I felt right at home with the more complex harmonies. I found it exciting to attend a session where the music was more nuanced than just a TV theme or another popular song. Man, it was totally up my alley. Download and subscribe to Rolling Stone Music Now, our weekly podcast hosted by Brian Hiatt, on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts), and peruse the archive of six years’ worth of episodes, which feature in-depth, career-spanning conversations with artists like Bruce Springsteen, Halsey, Neil Young, Snoop Dogg, Brandi Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers, Rick Ross, Alicia Keys, the National, Ice Cube, Robert Plant, Du