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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