Monday, July 27, 2009

The flowers of deep feeling seem to serve me

35 Joni Mitchell, 'Song For Sharon'

Stories are important to me, having developed a love of reading from an early age. I don't know exactly where it comes from - that love. Three of my children have found it to varying degrees but my eldest daughter has not yet (she's 20). They have all had roughly the same stimulus to read but it hasn't stuck with her. Who knows why.

I think it's that love of reading and love of stories that leads me to songs like Song For Sharon on Joni Mitchell's great great Hejira album. It's a strange twisting, turning story that rewards every time.

This song/story is in the form of an open letter to her old friend Sharon.

Joni is on her way to Staten Island to buy herself a mandolin when she sees a wedding dress on a storefront mannequin. She watches the big ferry boat chuggin' back with a belly full of cars. She thinks about some girl who'll see that dress and crave that wedding day like crazy.

She thinks about little Indian kids on a bridge up in Canada. They can balance and they can climb like their fathers before them. They'll walk the girders of the Manhattan skyline in the future. Joni passes the Statue of Liberty. She's intending to head to the church to play bingo as soon as the ferry arrives at Staten Island. She's forgotten about the mandolin seemingly.

She tells us she can keep cool while playing at poker, but she's a fool when love's at stake because she can't conceal emotion. She remembers seeing a gypsy down on Bleecker Street.She went in to see her as a kind of joke. The gypsy lit a candle for my love luck and 18 bucks goes up in smoke.

She tells Sharon directly that she left her man at a North Dakota junction and came out to the "Big Apple" here to face the dream's malfunction. She calls love 'a repetitious danger'.

She also tells us about a woman she knew who just drowned herself in a well. Joni speculates as to why - maybe her friend was just shaking off futility or punishing somebody. The act has provoked all of Joni's other friends to get in touch with her and give her advice: Dora says, "Have children!"; Mama and Betsy say-"Find yourself a charity, help the needy and the crippled or put some time into Ecology."

But all Joni really wants right now is to find another lover.

She reminisces about when she and Sharon were kids in Maidstone. Joni remembers, amongst other things, going to every wedding in that little town to see the tears and the kisses and the pretty lady in the white lace wedding gown. Joni remembers going skating after Golden Reggie and chasing white lace and dreams of love. Instead, he showed her that first you get the kisses and then you get the tears. Joni is still chasing the dream of being a bride.

Having returned from Staten Island (did she buy the mandolin?) Joni watches 29 skaters on central park's Wollman rink circling in singles and in pairs.

This concludes Joni's story but before she takes her leave, she addresses Sharon directly to end the song. She says, 'Sharon - you've got a husband and a family and a farm. I've got the apple of temptation and a diamond snake around my arm. But you still have your music and I've still got my eyes on the land and the sky. You sing for your friends and your family, I'll walk green pastures by and by.'

It's an extraordinary story, almost dream like in its development and shifts. I wasn't able to find a live performance of Joni doing the song so I've attached the studio recording. It might be fun to read through the story as you listen, in singles or in pairs. Good luck with your own repetitious danger.

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