Joni Mitchell Tells Elton John the Stories Behind Her Iconic Songs: “Both Sides Now,” “Carey” & More

When Joni Mitchell heard the great cabaret artist Mabel Mercer in concert, she was so struck by the older woman’s rendition of “Both Sides Now,” the enduring ballad Mitchell wrote at the tender age of 23, that she went backstage to show her appreciation:

… but I didn’t tell her that I was the author. So, I said, y’know, I’ve heard various recordings of that song, but you bring something to it, y’know, that other people haven’t been able to do. You know, it’s not a song for an ingenue. You have to bring some age to it. 

Well, she took offense. I insulted her. I called her an old lady, as far as she was concerned. So I got out of there in a hell of a hurry! 

But I think I finally became an old lady myself and could sing the song right.

This is just one of many candid treats to be found in Mitchell’s interview with Elton John, for his Apple Music 1 show Rocket Hour.

For the most part, Mitchell’s reminiscences coalesce around various iconic tracks from her nearly sixty years in the music industry.

“Carey,” off Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue, sparks memories of an exploding stove during a hippie-era sojourn in Matala on Crete’s south coast, with an Odyssey reference thrown in for good measure.

“Amelia” was hatched, as were most of the tunes on 1976’s Hejira, while Mitchell was on a solo road trip in a secondhand Mercedes, an experience that caused her to dwell on the first female aviator to cross the Atlantic solo. (She scribbled down lyrics that had come to her at the wheel whenever she pulled over for lunch.)

Regarding “Sex Kills” from 1994’s Turbulent Indigo, John quotes a Rolling Stone article in which Mitchell discussed the “ugliness” she was detecting in popular music:

I think it’s on the increase. Especially towards women. I’ve never been a feminist, but we haven’t had pop songs up until recently that were so aggressively dangerous to women.

“What did you mean by that?” John asks. “ People saying rap music with ‘my hos’ and stuff like that?”

“Oh, well, y’know, yeah,” Mitchell says, “Hos and booty, y’know, hahahah.”

She may not seem overly fussed about it now, but don’t get her started on what young women wear to the Grammys!

John also invited Mitchell to discuss three songs that have influenced her.

Her picks:

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross’s “Charleston Alley” (a musical epiphany as a high schooler at a college party)

Edith Piaf’s “Les Trois Cloches” (a musical epiphany as an 8-year-old at a birthday  party)

And Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” (dancing ‘round the jukebox at Saskatoon swimming pool)

Circling back to “Both Sides Now,” Mitchell prefers the orchestral arrangement she recorded as an alto in 2002 to the original’s girlish soprano, with its possibly unearned perspective. (“It’s not a song for an ingenue…”)

When I performed it, the orchestra gathered around me and I’ve played with classical musicians before and they were always reading the Wall Street Journal behind their sheet music and they always treat you like it’s a condescension to be playing with you, but everybody, the men – Englishmen! – were weeping!

Perhaps you too will be moved to tears, as singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile was during a performance of “Both Sides Now” as part of the 2022 Newport Folk Festival’s Joni Jam, Mitchell’s first show in 22 years, owing to a period of major disillusionment with the music business as well as a 2015 brain aneurysm.

Tune into more episodes of Elton John’s Rocket Hour here.

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How Joni Mitchell Wrote “Woodstock,” the Song that Defined the Legendary Music Festival, Even Though She Wasn’t There (1969)

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and the soon to be released Creative, Not Famous Activity Book.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Steve Jobs Shares a Secret for Success: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

In 1994—the year Apple co-founder Steve Jobs filmed an interview with The Silicon Valley Historical Association in which he encouraged people to go for what they want by enlisting others’ assistance—there was no social media, no Kickstarter, no GoFundMe, no Patreon…  email was just becoming a thing.

Back then, asking for help meant engaging in a face-to-face or voice-to-voice real time interaction, something many people find intimidating.

Not so young Jobs, an electronics nut who related more easily to the adult engineers in his Silicon Valley neighborhood than to kids his own age.

As he recounts above, his desire to build a frequency counter spurred him to cold call Bill Hewlett (of Hewlett-Packard), to see if he’d give him some of the necessary parts.

(In light of the recent college admissions scandal, let us recognize the 12-year-old Jobs not only had the gumption to make that call, he also appears to have had no parental assistance looking up Hewlett’s number in the Palo Alto White Pages.)

Hewlett agreed to the young go-getter’s request for parts. Jobs’ chutzpah also earned him a summer job on a Hewlett Packard assembly line, putting screws into frequency counters. (“I was in heaven,” Jobs said of this entry level position.)

Perhaps the biggest lesson for those in need of help is to ask boldly.

Ask like it’s 1994.

No, ask like it’s 1968, and you’re a self-starter like Steve Jobs hellbent on procuring those specialty parts to build your frequency counter.

(Let’s further pretend that lying around waiting for Mom to order you a DIY frequency counter kit on Amazon is not an option…)

Need an extra push?

Psychologist Adam Grant’s bestselling Give and Take makes an effective case for human interaction as the pathway to success, whether you’re the kid placing the call, or the big wig with the power to grant the wish.

Social psychologist Heidi Grant’s book, Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You, explains how to ask without sniveling, self-aggrandizing, or putting the person on the receiving end in an awkward position.

And that shy violet Amanda Fucking Palmer, author of The Art of Asking and no stranger to the punk rock barter economy, details how her “ninja master-level fan connection” has resulted in her every request being met—from housing and meals to practice pianos and a neti pot hand delivered by an Australian nurse.

Just don’t forget to say “please” and, eventually, “thank you.”

Related Content:

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A Young Steve Jobs Teaches a Class at MIT (1992)

Steve Jobs Narrates the First “Think Different” Ad (Never Aired)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this May for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Young Steve Jobs Teaches a Class at MIT (1992)

Asking whether there will ever be another Steve Jobs seems to me like asking whether there’ll ever be another Muhammad Ali. While there may be little comparison between their respective domains, both unique individuals mastered their chosen pursuits, fought like hell to keep their titles, and “thought different” than everyone around them. Also Jobs, like Ali, didn’t hesitate to speak his mind, as in the clip above, in which he declares Microsoft’s Windows “the worst development environment that’s ever been invented.” It ain’t politic, but it’s maybe… kinda true? I don’t know…

My opinions on the matter aren’t worth much—I wouldn’t know the backend of an operating system from the backend of a tractor-trailer. But Jobs didn’t attain tech guru status just for the sleekness and simplicity of Apple’s designs, but for his keen insights into the refinement of consumer computing technology and his ability to convey them with the unpretentious directness of a black turtleneck and dad jeans. The clips here are of a young-ish Jobs teaching at MIT circa 1992, when he was 37 and running his company NeXT, founded in 1985 after he was originally forced out of Apple.

He stayed plenty busy during his Apple interregnum, helping to launch a little computer graphics division that would become Pixar and developing the technology and designs that revolutionized Apple when it bought NeXT in 1997—and when Jobs retook his empire through proprietary ruthlessness.

Here, five years away from that fateful event, we see him explaining his philosophy of innovation to students who may or may not have foreseen the breakthroughs to come. Just above, he describes how “you can use the concept of technology of windows opening, and then eventually closing,” referring not, this time, to Bill Gates’ hated OS.

Rather, Jobs talks of a situation in which “enough technology, usually from fairly diverse places, comes together, and makes something that’s a quantum leap forward possible.” One of Jobs’ many leaps forward in consumer technology might reasonably be summed up in one word: portability, as in, the ability to carry an entire library of music or a cell phone/music player/personal computer in your pocket.  Just above, he discusses “the enemy of portability,” namely such market demands as processing speed, storage space, and high-speed networking. And in the clip below, he talks about a subject near and dear to every tech executive’s heart—poaching talent from competitors such as, well, Microsoft.

The uniform of turtleneck tucked into jeans, the deliberate pacing back and forth, the expressive hand gestures and genuine comfort and confidence in front of a crowd: all of the mannerisms we remember from those hotly anticipated launch events are there in a shaggier form.

Through the various applications of his technological acumen, Jobs remained always himself. The “next Steve Jobs,” or rather those aspiring to his level of relevance should take note—he did it by insisting on doing it his way.


Related Content:

The 20 CDs Curated by Steve Jobs and Placed on Prototype iPods (2001)

Steve Jobs Muses on What’s Wrong with American Education, 1995

Steve Jobs on the Rise of the Personal Computer: A Rare 1990 Interview

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Apple’s Hypercard Software, the Innovative 1980s Precursor to Hypertext, Now Made Available by is on a bit of a roll lately. After recently making available 25,000+ digitized 78rpm records from the early 20th century, they’ve turned around and put online Apple Hypercard software. When Hypercard was released in 1987, The New York Times published an article entitled “Apple to Introduce Unusual Software,” which began:

Apple Computer Inc. will introduce an unusual database and management information program Tuesday that the company hopes will help it maintain its lead in technology for making computers easy to use.

The new software, known as Hypercard, will enable users of Apple’s Macintosh computers to organize information on computerized file cards that can be linked to other file cards in intricate ways. The program will be included for no charge with each Macintosh sold, starting this month.

Hypercard made its appearance precisely when Apple also released “a communications device, known as a modem, that will enable the Macintosh to send documents to and from facsimile machines.” Some of us still use modems today. Hypercard, not so much. At least not directly.

As Hypercard’s creator Bill Atkinson indicates above, Hypercard started working with the hypertext concept that’s now prevalent on the web today. Think those links you find in HTML. On, you can find and play with Hypercard software, or what they call emulated Hypercard stacks. (They also host a library of emulated software for the early Macintosh computer). Read more about’s Hypercard project on their blog here.

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Director Michel Gondry Makes a Charming Film on His iPhone, Proving That We Could Be Making Movies, Not Taking Selfies

What’s director Michel Gondry up to these days? Apparently, trying to show that you can do smart things–like make serious movies–with that smartphone in your pocket. The director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the Noam Chomsky animated documentary Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? has just released “Détour,” a short film shot purely on his iPhone 7 Plus. Subtitled in English, “Détour” runs about 12 minutes and follows “the adventures of a small tricycle as it sets off along French roads in search of its young owner.” Watch it, then ask yourself, was this really not made with a traditional camera? And then ask yourself, what’s my excuse for not getting out there and making movies?

According to Europe 1, the film took about two weeks to make, during which Gondry used the video software Filmic Pro, which costs $14.99 in Apple’s app store.

“Détour” will be added to our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Steve Reich is Calling: A Minimalist Ringtone for the iPhone

What if minimalist composer Steve Reich got his hands on the iPhone’s familiar Marimba ringtone? That’s what the website Steve Reich is Calling imagines. Here’s how Jason Kottke describes the basic concept:

[Reich’s] 1967 piece Piano Phase featured a pair of pianists repetitively performing the same piece at two slightly different tempos, forming a continually evolving musical round. Seth Kranzler took this idea and made a Reich-like piece with two iPhones ringing at slightly different tempos.

From what I can tell, there’s not actually an official way to download the ringtone and make it your own–though it does appear that there are, indeed, ways to convert Youtube videos into ringtones. (Note: we haven’t tested these methods, so proceed cautiously.)

For anyone interested in taking a deeper dive–a much deeper dive–into Reich’s musical world, please see this post in our archive: Hear Steve Reich’s Minimalist Compositions in a 28-Hour Playlist: A Journey Through His Influential Recordings.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

Looking for free, professionally-read audio books from Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free trial with, you can download two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

via Kottke

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Stanford University Launches Free Course on Developing Apps with iOS 10

Whenever Apple releases a new version of iOS, Stanford University eventually releases a course telling you how to develop apps in that environment. iOS 10 came out last fall, and now the iOS 10 app development course is getting rolled out this quarter. It’s free online, of course, on iTunes.

You can now find “Developing iOS Apps with Swift” housed in our collection of Free Computer Science Courses, which currently features 117 courses in total, including some basic Harvard courses that will teach you how to code in 12 weeks.

As always, courses from other disciplines can be found on our larger list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.


Watch an Epic, 4-Hour Video Essay on the Making & Mythology of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

If you’re like me, every little bit of information doled out for the upcoming third season of Twin Peaks is like a series of clues found along a dark path through the Ghostwood National Forest. We’ve seen brief views of some major characters. We’ve heard Angelo Badalamenti confirm he’s back to score the series. We picked up and speed read the Mark Frost-written Secret History. We know that it will be 18 hours of pure David Lynch and Mark Frost, and that whatever it may do, it won’t go all wonky and not-so-good like the terrible trough in the middle of Season Two. And now we have a date for the premiere: May 21.

So it’s not time to brew coffee, or put a cherry pie in the oven, just yet. Instead, it’s time to bone up on the series itself and ask ourselves, is Twin Peaks a failed series that needs to be rectified? Or if Lynch and Frost had never agreed to revisit their iconic work, would we still have a cohesive work?

Video essayist Joel Bocko says yes, and has made what is probably the definitive and most thorough analysis of the series out there on the web.

I first stumbled across Journey Through Twin Peaks one night, and thinking that it was only one short video essay I started watching. My mistake: episode one was only the first in a 28-chapter series that totaled over four hours, arranged in four parts. And, yes, I sat and watched the whole damn thing.

Bocko is good, real good. This is not uncritical fan worship. This is a man, like many of us, who fell in love with the transcendent heights of the show and suffered through its miserable lows, but, through that misery, figured out what made the show such a game-changer.

One important thing Bocko does is give Mark Frost his due. Usually hidden behind the art and the mythos of Lynch, Frost brought much to the show, from the detective procedural framework to themes of the occult and Theosophy. Bocko shows how Lynch came out of the Twin Peaks experience with a completely different and much more complex idea of character. Before Peaks, Lynch’s work saw good and evil existing not just on opposite sides of the spectrum, but as different characters. (Think of Blue Velvet.) In the films he makes afterwards, doppelgangers, fugue states, and self-negation, along with the spiritual confusion that come with it, are central to Lynch’s work.

But that’s just one of the many insights waiting for you in this rewarding analytical work, which also takes in Fire Walk With Me and Mulholland Dr. through to Inland Empire. Suffice it to say, it’s full of spoilers, so proceed with caution.

On the other hand, if you don’t have time before the premiere, you can always watch the first season in under a minute here.

via Welcome to Twin Peaks

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

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