I had a good conversation the other day with Noisey’s Philip Eil about the Joni Mitchell anthology we put together at Rock’s Backpages. Read it HERE if you will.
“If I was to make kind of crass analogies, [I’d say that if] Dylan is sort of Shakespeare, then Joni is Milton… or Dante. In terms of popular music that’s more than just mindless singalong pablum, then she is an artist of genuine stature, whose songs, whose music, are as great as any art form, as the work of any artist in the 20th and into the 21st century. It doesn’t matter who the hell it is: Faulkner, de Kooning, Bergman. People tend to think that pop music is a lesser art form. I think when you listen to Court and Spark, you can’t really sit there and say, ‘Well, this is just pop music.’ You have to think of it on a level with the greatest art that’s been done in the last hundred years.”
One thought on “Noisey Joni”
I’m trying to work out a theory of why Eil’s observation about under-rating the art of songwriters is accurate. One good thought is simple jealousy: that for a time song writers, particularly singer-songwriters, had money, fame, and desirability that eclipsed most all word-writers. If this is the most of it, then we can expect this to fade away in a newer era when most singer-songwriters as a class have fallen into a lot closer to other writers.
But another thought I have is that music, particularly when being judged by word-writers, is considered dangerous to words. The thought experiment there would be to ask the word-writer if a fine selection by their agreed-upon great writer would be devalued if set to music, and have them honestly wrestle with that idea. I believe some would say “yes.” What is considered a fine art in words would seem odd to them mixed with most forms of music, the two things would not seem to fit. But the next question is: is this the fault of music, or is it the fault of what they consider to be a fine art in words?
Joni Mitchell herself has said that she takes pride in her musical component to her songs, And in this she does stand out doesn’t she. It’d be to dismissive to say if Dylan is Shakespeare (and in quotability, Dylan has risen to similar levels in our age) then Mitchell is Thomas Campion, And while it’s anachronistic to say, maybe one gets closer if one says Dylan is Shakespeare and Mitchell is Thelonious Monk?