‘Spark’ the Music

October 26, 2014

Joni-Mitchell-painting-2Due to this really, really crazy world and all the news pouring from every direction 24/7, I miss a lot of stuff otherwise buried — one for sure is the report Joni Mitchell will release a new box-set-collection of her tunes, due Nov. 17, where she boiled down 17 albums into 53 songs.

In a statement announcing, “Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced,” Mitchell seemed to note what I always loved about her music (via Rolling Stone): “I am a painter who writes songs. My songs are very visual. The words create scenes… What I have done here is to gather some of these scenes (like a documentary filmmaker) and by juxtaposition, edit them into a whole new work.”

Or an indie movie, a Resnais-tinted  ‘Court and Spark.’

(Illustration: ‘Joni Mitchell,’ oil on canvas by Merryl Jaye, found here).

Although I enjoyed all her stuff, none of her music touched me, or carried an influence for a time as did ‘Court and Spark,’ released 40 years ago. And as Mitchell indicated above, all of ‘Court and Spark‘ seemed to carry that visually-inspired narrative as if composed in a disjointed dream, a painter of word-sounds blended into fable.
From “Dancing up a river in the dark, looking for a woman, to court and spark,” to the flip, “Send me somebody who’s strong, and somewhat sincere,” and onto “…the kids got cokes and chocolate bars, there’s a thin man smoking a fat cigar,” all flowing together to create a life where “I deal in dreamers and telephone screamers…thinking how I’ll feel when I find that very good friend of mine.”
A poetically-paralyzed  ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ via some softened pulp fiction.

Down through the years, for a few anyway,  I wanted to write a screenplay of ‘Court and Spark.’ A ‘New Wave,’ dream-like movie capturing all the passion, fright and longing found in the 11-songed album. I ‘monkeyed-around’ with the concept, but never really got serious.
Maybe it was the time — 1974 was a watershed year for me. I graduated from college (University of Florida) that year, and I discovered marijuana that self-same time. I listened to a ton of music — there’s was some great shit that year — but along with ‘Court and Spark,’ the big memories were Billy Joel’s early album, ‘Piano Man‘ (it came out the previous fall, but I didn’t get “into it” until the summer) and Mott the Hoople’s ‘All the Young Dudes‘ — quite an electic bunch to say the least.

In a lengthy interview/retrospect of Mitchell’s career at the Guardian yesterday, not only on the upcoming box set of music, but also off a new book, ‘Both Sides Now,” due also next month, Sean O’Hagan seems to profess a like-feel for ‘Court and Spark‘ and all its visual-singsong narrative:

Despite all these scattered clues, though, Court and Spark came as a surprise.
Gone was the fragile, confessional songstress in a flowing dress; instead, here was a confident, full-throated singer in designer threads with a slick electric band in tow.
Gone, too, were the acoustic songs sung with just a guitar, piano or dulcimer backing, replaced by an electric, jazz-inflected, intricately arranged sound, courtesy of Tom Scott’s LA Express, that weaved around lyrics that were acutely observational or dazzlingly impressionistic, rather than soul-baringly confessional.
When her friend, Malka Marom, author of Both Sides Now, asked her if the band’s presence meant that she might risk the vulnerable singer-songwriter image she had cultivated, Mitchell replied defiantly: “Well, I don’t want to be vulnerable any more.”
Not for the first or last time, Joni Mitchell had moved on and, in doing so, had remade herself in the manner of a true artist.

“I was there when they were rehearsing the Court and Spark songs for the live tour,” says Malka Marom.
“Joni had a close connection with drummer John Guerin. He was the first person to put her music on paper; he mapped it out for the band. But he was also the one who inspired the courting and the sparking.”
You can hear that romantic static loud and clear on the raucously sensual Raised On Robbery, in which Mitchell inhabits the role of a good-time girl on the pick-up, relishing the lines, “I’m a pretty good cook, I’m sitting on my groceries/ Come up to my kitchen, I’ll show you my best recipe.”
It was a long way from Laurel Canyon, lunar miles from the folksy piety of Clouds.
On Free Man in Paris – reputedly about Geffen – and the observational People’s Parties, Mitchell turned her gaze on the newly ascendant Los Angeles rock music aristocracy with their “passport smiles” and cocaine cool.
As Court and Spark became her bestselling album, she was still the conflicted outsider, unable to fit comfortably into this new elite – “I feel like I’m sleeping, can you wake me?” she sings on People’s Parties, sounding resigned, almost numb, “…I’m just living on nerves and feelings with a weak and a lazy mind/ And coming to people’s parties, fumbling, deaf, dumb and blind.”

What a neat movie…

I only saw Mitchell live once — at the University of Alabama in early 1976. The event, though, is one of my premiere memories due to the fact I escorted three attractive chicks to the concert. All fellow reporters at the newspaper where I then worked, but still…courting and sparking in full force.
Dude, there was some help in those days:

Didn’t it feel good
We were sitting there talking
Or lying there not talking
Didn’t it feel good
You dance with the lady
With the hole in her stocking
Didn’t it feel good
Didn’t it feel good

Long ago, yes…

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