05 February 2011

Stardust, Billion Year Old Carbon

Last night I streamed Woman of Heart and Mind: A Life Story (2003). It is a lovingly crafted documentary about the immensely influencial Canadian musician, songwriter, and painter, Joni Mitchell.

I owned most of Joni's vinyl in the 70s. I picked up her most intensely personal album Blue in high school, then carried it with me in a wooden crate to Montana and Minnesota.

The Woodstock Phenomena

I didn't realize that Joni Mitchell didn't perform at the Woodstock Festival.

She wanted to go to Woodstock, but she was booked on the Dick Cavett Show the next day in NYC. Her manager was concerned about getting her in and out of Woodstock, 100 miles due north of NYC, in time for the Cavett show. She lamented, "the boys were all going". The boys were the iconic band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Joni wrote the tune "Woodstock" from a hotel room in NYC as she watched TV reports about the festival. She says,
"The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock."
"Woodstock" later became a major hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which included from then-boyfriend, Graham Nash.

Anyone in their 50s or 60s who doesn't recognize Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" from opening three chords should be ashamed. In these iconographic chords, repeated 3 1/2 times, she encapsulates all the hope and all the tragedy of her generation.

The Poet Philosopher

Joni Mitchell was the poet of her generation.
We are stardust
We are golden
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden
Take the Christian symbolism "back to the garden" with a grain of salt. She's a spiritual person who understands Christian mythology. She uses back to the garden as a metaphor to reject the alienating and dehumanizing Nixonian military-industrial movement. A movement that, sadly, most of the Woodstock generation would eventually be co-opted by.

In the next verse Joni Mitchell speaks to thinkers and existential tinkerers with the brilliant lines
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
Thank you Joni Mitchell.

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