Saturday, December 11, 2010

Joni Mitchell - I wish I had a River

I've been listening to the 104.9 FM Christmas Fun Radio and love hearing, "I wish I had a River so I could skate away". The song brings back memories of skating on the frozen windswept Red River growing up as a boy in Winnipeg. But it's bittersweet sadness speaks to the loneliness I've felt so many Christmas seasons, when my own spiritual alienation, and desire to be closer to God is made worse by the booze infested jollity of this frenetic consumer holiday.
First I heard Sarah McLaughlin singing this song. Her voice is so haunting it comes from the centre of the universe before braiding a few galaxies and bits of heaven into the song. Then I heard Robert Downey Jr singing it and sure enough he too made the song seem a modern day Song of Songs with the story of the Garden of Eden thrown in, just for good measure.
So I asked myself who wrote the song? Sure enough, Joni Mitchell.
That Saskatchewan woman has been opening my eyes, heart and ears to the possible since childhood. She's a folk jazz Mingus in skirts guitarist, with her own Judy Collins, Joan Baez. Anne Murray voice, but a uniquely incomparable melodist lyricist that might make Gordon Lightfoot and Leonard Cohen wish they had ovaries.
Thanks as much to her as anyone I grew to know that women were different but the same in things related to love and desire. God, she's been my heroine. I've bought her albums. I've admired her paintings. I 've enjoyed the bits of flotsam and joy I've heard of her life.
I've always been immensely proud that she's Canadian. I've always heard the intimacy and wide open spaces of the prairies even in her most urban songs. And yes, I've found myself singing her songs in my head as no other words painted the picture of some experience I too have floundered into, only to know that Joni had been that crazy way before and written just the words to make it all feel okay.
Today, it's "I wish I had a river."
Yesterday, it's been "Both Sides Now", "Woodstock", "Big Yellow Taxi", "Free Man in Paris", "Help Me", "Chelsea Morning",and so many more. So many nights driving across some northern stretch of Canada I've slipped on a Joni Mitchell album and let her talk to me. My life has been made so much richer reflecting on life in the light of her depth.
In 2007 I bought her Shine album and was transported again to that place only Joni is the guide too. Today this song took me to that Joni Mitchell place of candles and sweet scents and vivid feeling colours where even the toughest of men once were babies and all the women can still be girls.

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