Podcast Review: Legend, The Joni Mitchell Story

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, Arts & Culture, Book Report, Music

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Musings on Writing and Life.

How do you survive an Arctic snow and ice and blowing wind and wind chill event in the normally benign climate of the Pacific Northwest? By listening to the new, awesome podcast, Legend: The Joni Mitchell Story on BBC 4 radio who has done it once again in the realm of musical explorations. I absolutely adore their series, Soul Music—explorations of songs that have moved oh so many of us over the years and for truly the most soulful reasons. Songs like “Fast Car.” “Fire and Rain.” “Hallelujah” and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” And that doesn’t even begin to dent the tunes they cover and celebrate with stories that have brought me to tears more than a few times.

And now this new series, Legend, whose raison d’être is to profile seminal musical artists and starts with the singular, sensational, ever-gravity-and-genre-defying Joni Mitchell. All I can say is wow, wow, wow. The six episodes chart the decades of her extraordinary life and musical journey from Saskatchewan to Los Angeles by way of Detroit, New York City, and her acreage on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Each episode surveys an era of Joni’s music—the good, great, bad, and ugly are all covered—and are named in homage to one of her songs from that period: “Urge for Going”; “Lady of the Canyon”; “Blue”; “Refuge of the Roads”; “Run Dog Run”; and “Both Sides Now.”

True confession: This IS the music of my youth so I am likely more than nostalgic about a retrospective that highlights someone whose songs are so often a heartbeat soundtrack for me. That said, I learned new things listening to these podcast episodes. The severity of polio and its lasting effect on the rest of Joni’s life. The sorrow that followed and filleted her after giving up what would be her only child for adoption when she was twenty-one years old. Her constant struggle to define her art-making on her own terms at the same time she was seeking love and relationships. The importance of taking the first shekels you earn and turning them into property where you can always find safe haven—whether it is a hippie house in Laurel Canyon, a fancier shack in Bel Air, or ample acreage in British Columbia. This podcast is the portrait of an artist who is far too introverted to survive the ongoing onslaught of the public relations media machine that demands that creative people perform 24/7 and then some. Of someone who acknowledged her flaws and shortcomings, her selfish, artistic tendencies and has continued to create, create, create. And has reconnected with her daughter as well. Someone who has made it to eighty, cigarettes and all, and continues to thrive in her own, self-defined way. The Gershwin Prize concert in her honor is a joy to behold. Brava, Joni!

The public domain photograph above is of the group, Lucius—whose members include Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig—along with Brandi Carlile and Sara Bareilles, all posing for a photo with Gershwin Prize for Popular Song honoree Joni Mitchell during a reception in the Library of Congress Great Hall, February 28, 2023. A full recording of the outstanding event is here.

Nancy Flynn
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