Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Court and Spark

Court and Spark introduced Joni's new jazzy sound. It was her most successful album, commercially and critically. It was all downhill after this.

This album was so popular that I first heard it at my school friend Lynn's house - her parents owned the album. Admittedly her parents were hipper than my parents - but who wasn't?

The CSNY presence is still there. Nash and Still were both credited on "For the Roses" and Crosby and Nash both get background vocal credits on C&S. But members of the jazz fusion L.A. Express are here too. Mitchell would tour with them and they'd be a big part of her live album Miles of Aisles.

Not every song does it for me on this album. And much of it is sort of slow and contemplative and she has only one really upbeat pop-rock type song in here, Raised on Robbery and it's a departure musically with its Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy vibe.

She's still surrounded by fame and famous people and famous boyfriends of course  - a crazy guy shows up on her doorstep in the title track Court and Spark. Free Man in Paris is reportedly about David Geffen, wishing he wasn't so big and important and famous. People's Parties is full of glamorous jet-setters, although I do like the groove at the end of that song, with "laughing it all way." Same Situation features another famous guy with groupies.

Help Me was her monster top 40 hit - I heard it so often on the radio back when I feel like I can't really hear it any more.

At the time I first heard this album my favorite track was Mitchell's cover of Twisted which featured Cheech and Chong doing a brief cameo in the background. Like all kids then I was familiar with Cheech and Chong through their immortal Sister Mary Elephant routine. (Also immortal, Earache My Eye.) I liked Twisted so much I memorized it, and can still do the whole thing, including the Cheech and Chong bits, by heart to this day.

And Twisted makes a nice match with the song that comes before it, Troubled Child which is basically Mitchell's take on the same topic as Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb."

I find I appreciate Just Like This Train more now. I like the metaphors and the descriptions of people on the train. You have to wonder why Joni is on a train since planes are more her usual mode of transportation. There's a great bitchy line in this song: "dreaming all the pleasure I'm gonna have watching your hairline recede my vain darling." As a teenager I didn't realize the importance of this particular type of schadenfreude as I do now.

"Raised on Robbery" was a huge revelation for me. The song appears to be about a not especially successful prostitute, since the last line is "hey where you going? don't go yet, your glass ain't empty and we just met." But innocent-school-girl me didn't get the prostitute angle, at first. I understood the beginning of the song - a guy is in a bar watching TV and gambling on The Maple Leafs - I even knew this was a Canadian hockey team. And a "lady in lacy sleeves" approaches him. But this section confused the hell out of me.
I'm a pretty good cook, I'm sitting on my groceries
Come up to my kitchen I'll show you my best recipes
I try and I try but I can't save a cent
I'm up after midnight cooking, trying to raise my rent,
I'm rough but I'm pleasing I was raised on robbery."
Now if you think, as I initially did on hearing this, that she's an actual chef the lines don't make any sense. So here's me thinking it over:
Why would she be cooking after midnight? How weird. Do they do that in Canada? And why would she be sitting on her groceries? Wouldn't they get squashed? Maybe that's why she can't save a cent, she squashed all her groceries? Wouldn't she be uncomfortable sitting on her.... oh! Ohhhhhh! Her groceries are... her... the thing that she uses to cook... oh my God this is about sex!!!
I was so proud of myself for working this out. I thought I was quite the sophisticated lady.

Here's a live version with poor beautiful talented Jaco Pastorius (wearing the red headband) who ended his life mentally ill and homeless. He died from wounds received from a bouncer in 1987.

I only just realized how odd it was that I blamed Jackson Browne for not enjoying some of "For the Roses." I don't know how I didn't know this until today, but between Roses and Court and Spark, Joni and Jackson Browne were an item - Browne was an opener for Joni's tour and then they got involved.

Here I thought that Joni's song which was a barely disguised attack against Browne, "Not to Blame" was purely based on the rumor that Browne had beat Daryl Hannah. That may have been the impetus but apparently Browne had hit Mitchell, according to the book Girls Like Us. So if anybody might believe that Brown beat Hannah it would be Joni.

Also according to the book, several of the songs on Court and Spark are about her relationship with Browne, especially Car on a Hill. And Mitchell took the break-up with Browne very badly, attempting suicide and ending up in therapy, apparently the inspiration for Troubled Child. Oh my prophetic soul - Jackson Browne is to blame for so many reasons.