Tag Archives: Joan Baez

August 2022: Both Sides Now

Clouds at Point Imperial, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, September 2018

Like some others, I have been thinking about Joni Mitchell this past week. Mitchell* performed at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24, 2022 after not performing an entire set for many years. Unlike some of my friends, I haven’t listened to her much this last week. Not sure why that is, but I think it might be because Joni Mitchell is already in my blood like holy wine.

Some of you have heard this story before (and some of you lived it with me), but I want to write about it again. I am writing this article sitting in my chair. No music now, but there are clouds off to the right through the balcony window.

my chair below the Joni Mitchell drawing**
our balcony with clouds and plants

I think I first listened to Joni Mitchell’s music in the fall of 1968 when I was not quite 19 years old. It is possible that I heard Judy Collin’s version of “Both Sides Now” before I heard Mitchell’s own version. I liked both versions–then and now. Soon after, I heard Mitchell’s albums, probably on one of my college roommate’s record player. Then and now, when I hear those words and that voice–or just think of them as I am doing now–I am transported to another place. There is pain in that place, but the words and the voice I hear sing a strong and healing magic.

For several years when I was young, I would sing Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez songs. This was quite a feat because I can’t–and never could–sing well, so I sang when I was alone. I sang Mitchell’s “Michael from Mountains,” “Tin Angel,” and “Blue” thinking of Tom. Sometimes I would sing as I walked at Lone Rock beach at Lake Powell near where I taught or while I drove the back roads of the Intermountain West, where I often didn’t have radio reception.

In 1973, I received a teaching fellowship for a Master’s degree in English at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. That was great (except for the stipend, of course, which was a meager $2,000 per year). Many of my Grand Canyon friends were in Salt Lake at the time and I met another lifelong friend there, my fellow teacher, Laura. I was still bewitched by the songs of Joni Mitchell and, because I wanted to study the English words that meant a great deal to me, I decided to write a thesis on the lyrics in Mitchell’s songs.

Many things happened: I taught freshman composition classes including reviewing hundreds of essays, I got married and shortly Tom and I were expecting a child. My plan on the thesis was to finish it before our first child was to be born in May of 1975. With one thing and another, I finally finished the thesis not long before our second child was born in May of 1977. Our friends from back in the day may remember me listening, writing, rewriting, stalling, obsessing, and worrying about the paper. I had elements of the thesis in various states of readiness for months, but the final version came together when I was able to spend a week working alone at our friend Sally’s apartment. My thesis was accepted and I remember the kind words of Professor Phil Sullivan–an aging hippie among the more standard issue faculty I had at Utah. Phil agreed with me that music lyrics could indeed be poetry. Rest in peace, Phil.

Note: You can tell how long ago all of this was because my thesis only covers Mitchell through Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975). It was also so long ago that I needed to hire a typist to type/format my paper into a form that the university would accept. That cost some money. What I remember most, though is how much it cost to copy the thesis. I wanted to make a copy of the thesis to send to Joni Mitchell. Each page back then would cost about one dollar to make a good copy. At a little over 100 pages, I didn’t feel I could afford to copy the thesis to send. I didn’t really know where I might send it anyhow. A Grecian Isle, a red dirt road in Spain, or California? Years passed. Mitchell kept writing, composing, and painting. I kept parenting, gardening, working (mostly in education), and listening to music.

title page

Mitchell sang “Both Sides Now” at the Newport Folk Festival on July 24. I did listen to it and I loved the rendition. Both Joni Mitchell and I are old now, so we have had ample opportunity to look at both sides of our lives with all those illusions and that winning and losing. I don’t really know life at all, but I am okay with that. I remember and still believe what Mitchell said in “Woodstock”: “I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.”

With all the years of  loving, winning, losing, and learning in my life, I was happy this morning to see that I still agree with the final sentence of my thesis: “Joni Mitchell, for her part, writes song poetry the way Dylan Thomas would have it, as ‘the rhythmic, inevitably narrative movement from overclothed blindness to a naked vision.'”

*When I started writing this piece, I automatically started writing “Joni” instead of “Joni Mitchell” or “Mitchell.” I don’t write “Will” for William Butler Yeats and I realize I want to equally acknowledge Mitchell’s gravitas, so I have written about her here formally.

**Artist and friend Howard Brough drew this portrait as a wedding gift for Tom and me in 1974. Howard also drew illustrations for Mitchell songs and two more portraits, which were included in the thesis. Thank you, Howard.

Music for January

taking down the dogwood

taking down the dogwood

This morning the Woodson’s Complete Tree Service guys are taking down our dogwood tree.  I expect that this is not a foreshadowing of my or Tom’s early demise. After all, we aren’t as old in people years as the dogwood was in tree years. We sometimes wonder whether this tree was planted when the house was built.  If so, it would be 85 years old. In any case, the dogwood has had dieback for years and had to come down (see the post To Autumn).

Forgive me, it’s just that January’s short days and cold nights make me think long thoughts. I told you a while ago that I was going to write more about the 2014 road trip. I was hoping for a brief, yet comprehensive, summary of what we saw and felt and what we learned. Maybe later.

Back to January My mother died in January. Three years later my dad died in January. That was okay, really, but I do get a bit pensive whenever there is snow on the Pennsylvania and Ohio Turnpikes (the route we take from Virginia to Michigan for the funerals).

Music of the Spheres Tom bought some new speakers for the stereo system. So we had to try them out by listening to music we’d heard many times to see whether or not the new speakers sound significantly better than the older (by 20 years) speakers.*

The first song I listened to was “Secret Gardens” from Judy Collins’ True Stories and Other Dreams. I listened to it a couple of hundred times when my parents were dying and then died. Thinking back though, even in 1973 when I first owned the album, I cried when I heard this song. I cried Monday when I heard it again. I think they are tears of happiness: “I see you shining through the night through the ice and snow of winter.”

Next, we listened to Joan Baez’s version of “North Country Blues” from her Any Day Now: The Songs of Bob Dylan CD. I think I was checking out the speakers to see how they worked on pure human voices. Very well, I can report.

Next,  I made a quirky choice: “Land of the Navajo” by Peter Rowan. The majority of our CDs are still in storage, maybe that’s my rationale for choosing this CD. Or maybe it’s because, while the plot of the song is opaque to me, Rowan’s evocative yodels (or whatever they are) take me back to the land of the Navajo, which I love.

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly

Tom chose Abbey Road, you know by whom. We listened from “Here Comes the Sun” through “Her Majesty.” I was astounded. They sang with the voices of angels. I hadn’t remembered that.

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It’s all right

How did they know how to write “little darling” instead using heavier words? Baby, I’m amazed.

Next, we listened to “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” from Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde CD. Tom has been listening to this song since he was a teenager in the town he always characterizes as “the armpit of Utah.” Looks like songs of love and yearning may work anywhere. I note that I am a person from the lowlands.

Finally, we listened together to some songs from Judy Collins’ Wildflowers including “Since You Asked”:

What I’ll give you since you asked
Is all my time together;
Take the rugged sunny days,
The warm and rocky weather,
Take the roads that I have walked along,
Looking for tomorrow’s time,
Peace of mind.

As my life spills into yours,
Changing with the hours
Filling up the world with time,
Turning time to flowers,
I can show you all the songs
That I never sang to one man before.

We have seen a million stone lying by the water,
You have climbed the hills with me
To the mountain shelter.
Taken off the days, one by one,
Setting them to breathe in the sun.

Take the lilies and the lace
From the days of childhood,
All the willow winding paths
Leading up and outward.
This is what I give
This is what I ask you for;
Nothing more.

Maybe I can use this song as the summary of the road trip/marriage we’ve been on so far.




*The verdict on the speakers: I am not an audiophile. I don’t usually listen consciously for sound quality. Nonetheless, the minute I heard these speakers, I had a simile for Tom. The speakers are like my sugar cookies (really Joy of Cooking’s rich sugar cookies). They are so pure, simple, and unadulterated that a person used to inferior baked goods might not notice how delicious the cookies are. Same deal for the speakers.