In 1967, a very young aspiring singer-songwriter by the name of Joni Mitchell was on an airplane, reading a book, Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow, in which the protagonist was looking out the window of a plane at some clouds. Mitchell put down the book and also looked out the window, saw some clouds, and wrote "Both Sides Now."
Folk singer Judy Collins made it a hit shortly thereafter, and Mitchell released her own version on her debut album in 1969. She became, in her subsequently stellar career, an iconic figure in music and in the culture. Mitchell's songs and persona showed women how to be fearless and independent, but still playful and charming. She broke a lot of rules, both musical and social, and was every bit as notorious in her love life as her male counterparts in rock and roll.
But people love Joni for her vulnerability, the ever-present ache in her voice. Her early albums are masterful, tributes to love, wonder and loss. Her later works are fearless ventures into sonic jazz landscapes and sharp, eyes-open lyrics. Though she fell out of mainstream adoration, she never lost her courage or her devotion to her personal vision.
Then she just fell off the map. She stopped writing and producing albums, and focused instead on her painting, which was always her first love. But finally, in 2000, she made an album of standards. The one original song was "Both Sides Now." Her voice was shocking--the years of two-packs-a-day smoking habit was on full display. It was much deeper now, much less the naughty school girl and more like the weary traveler.
But it retains an element of wistfulness that still speaks to the child in all of us, the wide-eyed innocent one that sees the magic of a cloud, who wrestles with the adult who knows better, who knows that what appears to be magic is just a trick of the light. . . this song says that both are wrong, both are right.
Enjoy your Sunday.