Joni Mitchell: Singer, Songwriter, Artist, Smoking Grandma

Fans are always eager to find out what drives their favorite artist to create. Hidden torment? Secret passion? The publicity-shy singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell has dropped more than a few lyrical cues over the last half century. Things became infinitely more overt during the informal portion of a 2008 interview with Charlie Rose.

Want to know what spurs Joni? Cigarettes!

She’s been hustling to finance her habit since she took them up at nine. What, you think she actively wanted to be a singer-songwriter? No man, playing folk songs in the Canadian coffeehouse scene for fifteen bucks a night meant financial health, and financial health meant she could smoke forever! Modern audiences might expect such a sentiment from the raucous and now-dead Janis Joplin, but isn’t Joni more of a demure Ladies of the Canyon type?

Bob Dylan would likely say no.

These days Joni is taking the straightforward approach, no more peeking out from behind carefully-rendered poetic veils. Frankly, Grandma Mitchell seems unlikely to give a damn if her unqualified romance with tobacco shocks. (It seems likely to, though perhaps not so much as some of her other candidly expressed views.)

Below, you can catch Joni during those freewheelin’ early days, playing a 3o minute set on British TV in 1970.

– Ayun Halliday wishes she could find the tape of the tape of the Joni Mitchell-James Taylor Unconcert that a friend’s friend taped off of WXRT back in the day.

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Comments (9)
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  • Shelley says:

    We need more grandmas putting aside the veils like Ms. Mitchell. All we get in the media are laughable stereotypes. We need writers seeing age as something more than cute or despairing or fake “wise.”

  • Mark says:

    Uh, no one has an “unqualified romance with tobacco”. Like millions of others, she’s a smoker who can’t quit. It’s an addiction. No judgment here — I smoked for 20 years. But the fact is, smoking causes problems — and for most, they are lethal problems. It has affected her voice, and it will hasten her death.

  • Veronika says:

    Yikes, such a bummer to hear her going off on gender binaries like women not acting like real women and men acting ‘weak’ (whatever that means) is the cause of all our woes. Groan.

  • Kolokol says:

    How unapologetically politically incorrect. Nice Joni.

  • QTN says:

    Ayun… You can hear the whole Unconcert (ah I remember those) from The Royal Albert Hall on youtube at

    It is also available as a download all over the web.

  • Ayun says:

    Thanks so much, QTN!

  • Tom says:

    Well, she’s never been one to hold back. I think her views on gender are a bit more complex than the short conversation here would allow. She does admit to speaking in generalities. I would agree. And that is always dangerous if not given the opportunity to expand and clarify. Surely she has nothing against strong women – being one herself. If her politics or nasty habits with tobacco bother you, you can always take solace in her painfully beautiful and sometimes joyous repertoire.

  • klyde says:

    Her comments on ‘weak’ men reminded me about why I, a former fan, lost interest in Joni and dropped her.

    Some years ago I came upon a book containing an interview in which Joni bemoaned the fact that gay designers were defining and dictating women’s fashion, something she thought women should do for themselves.

    So, in this clip we seem to have a similarly unguarded, momentary glimpse of Joni’s privileged and sheltered life amongst the aging Ladies of the Canyon, where it appears ‘weak’ means ‘gay’ (but with contempt), exposing a kind of fossilized hippie homophobia.

  • Jake Gerber says:

    Read this ! We are going to record together. Need the time,place and space. A nascent meet that is meant to be.
    Odds! Fuck the odds of your ever going to read this.
    Look forward to your response , I’m only four hundred miles up or six hundred down, depends on where you are at the time you read this.
    If people can pay tribute to white smoke in Rome, they can pay respect to …

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