Sometime back, I ran across this highly-personal reaction to the illness of singer Joni Mitchell and almost posted it, but other, more important posts had to come first. I share it now because it’s too good an essay to ignore. People need to read it–especially those who are fans of Mitchell’s music.
Mitchell is certainly not the first singer or musician to ignore her fans or even express disdain for them. Dan Fogelberg, just slightly after Mitchell on the musical timeline, was a talented man who was not above criticizing fans for not recognizing all he was trying to do in his music.
What it boils down to for artists like these is that the world they want, the world they envision in their music, doesn’t exist. The fact that it doesn’t exist frustrates them, and the fact that, despite their best efforts, they can’t get other people to imagine the world as they do frustrates them even more. Some artists, like Fogelberg, come to terms with the constant struggle and ultimately embrace their fans. Other artists, like Mitchell, turn inward, and isolate themselves from the world that “just doesn’t understand them.”
Had no one listened to Mitchell’s music at all, nobody would be discussing her career or mourning her illness in the first place. But we did listen to her music. Mitchell surely knows that. It could be that knowing people listened to her music is not enough for her, but it will have to do. It’s all any of us can offer her in her final days.
I might offer this, however, for what it’s worth. As I said a while back in “The Fragile Balance,” life is far too complex for any of us who are poets or painters or singers to take its full measure. What that means is that everything we do and everything we create in life is an approximation of what we truly meant to do or say. For most of us, the approximation will have to serve, and, eventually, although our hearts may break, we accept that reality. If Mitchell honestly believes that, after all this time, nobody got her music, then I can feel only gentle pity for her. The truth is, however, that we listened to her music, and we got it just fine.