“I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance.”
— Joni Mitchell in a June 8, 2000, article by Deidre Kelly in the Toronto Globe (“ ‘I sing my sorrow and I paint my joy’”)
At the holidays, I often listen to “River” by Joni Mitchell:
“It’s coming on Christmas/They’re cutting down trees/They’re putting up reindeer/And singing songs of joy and peace …”
I don’t relate to traditional Christmas carols like “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas.” In Southern California, it’s not likely to snow, although some of the local mountain peaks are frosted during colder winter days. I like this song that isn’t really a Christmas song but one of remembrance and regret and a longing to escape from something you can’t fix.
Joni’s lyrics are simple but amazing and sometimes they crop up in titles of my paintings (“Pretty Lies” is a line from “The Last Time I Saw Richard”). Like Joni, I consider myself “a painter derailed by circumstance” because writing diverted me from art when I was younger.
Recently, I bought a copy of her newly released book, “Morning Glory on the Vine,”* that contains early songs and drawings by the singer/songwriter. It’s larger than I had pictured from the image on the ad but I wasn’t disappointed. I collect art books and enjoy poring over the images and lyrics in her handwriting.
The book originated from her sketchbook in the early ’70s. Joni compiled the drawings and her lyrics in a limited edition, “The Christmas Book,” which she presented to friends for Christmas.
Her insights are timeless, and her images are remarkable, such as in “Chelsea Morning”:
“There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too/And the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses.”
The music takes me back to my teen years but I find it still resonates with me as I age.
“Oh, I wish I had a river/I could skate away on …”
* Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019