I saw Joni Mitchell was hospitalized. Is that what fame gets people now? You get your private little health issues blared through the megaphone for one day as they wait to see if you die, and if you live, you enjoy the bump to your music or movie sales on Amazon. Great voice and great songwriter. When the Lilith Fair, ‘90s women in music garbage was rolling out, my friends and I labeled it “Snatch Jams”. My mom listened to those women for five minutes and said, “This same message was better when it was Joni-Carly-Karen in the ‘70s.” Twenty year cycles of nostalgia and recycling themes work in funny ways. My favorite story, and it might be apocryphal, about Mitchell was that her agent told her to not go to Woodstock and to go to the Dick Cavett Woodstock wrap up show, which would give her more exposure. Tremendous. My wife’s favorite song of Mitchell’s is “Both Sides Now”. It’s dark, evokes great mental imagery, and has good melody.
I’m much more cliché on this one. I associate songs with people, sometimes an entire artist. As a measure of staying power or nerdy girl signaling, the women at my university still listened to Mitchell 25 years after her peak. It was on their MP3 Winamp playlist for “late night” songs. No one had a Mitchell poster on their wall, but it was a bit funny how high of a percentage these girls born years after her peak had her songs on their seduction playlists. Maybe you were going to smoke up, maybe you were going to chat for hours about the future, but you were definitely going to get laid. If Joni Mitchell played, clothes were coming off. I can’t help hearing Mitchell’s music and picturing naked girls in small dorm rooms and crappy off campus apartments. They were usually trying to signal they were insightful, smart girls, not just dumb, cheap girls giving it up to a charming guy. The Tori Amos music was a given on their playlists, too, but Mitchell was better to deal with. My favorite Mitchell song is “Help Me”.
I said cliché. It is her biggest hit. I love it. I associate it with one ex from college. Everything about us. Partly it is her labeling the line “a rambler and a gambler and a sweet talkin’ ladies man” as “Year 2000 you in a nutshell!!!”. I have loved very few women in my life, and she was one of them. As a little kid, I thought I’d go to college and meet my future wife, and for a short while I thought she’d be that woman. We’d smoke up, that song would play, I’d make her laugh and we’d get down. She had a sexy laugh, and I loved making her laugh. In that brief, great period, we went to a formal. After making the proper social rounds and requisite dancing, I ended up drunk with her sitting on my lap, laughing as I ripped the fugly girls, the Scarsdale-Larchmont pukes and striving Long Island Jews around us. Since I was going abroad, we broke up like many couples I knew when one went abroad, and that was the smart play. I expected we’d resume our relationship when we returned to campus the next fall. It did not work out that way. We had the same circle of friends. My guy friends kept waiting for it to happen. It didn’t. I spent senior year enjoying being a senior with younger women (my access to alcohol), and she had her circle of horrific friends. She teased me about 19 year olds I’d bring to parties. I mocked her cliché Catholic school girl outfit on Halloween. I teased her about being single and which of her friends had bulimia or anorexia at that moment. We spent months “flirtin’ around, flirtin’ and flirtin’, hurtin’ too” (Thanks Joni), reaching a crescendo at Senior Week.
I was single for Senior Week but had hook ups lined up. “Mission accomplished”, but she and I stayed circling one another. Heartiste is right, when they know you’re getting action from someone as cute or cuter than them, it lights the fire. Friday before graduation, I stole a glass from Ruloff’s, which was uniquely shaped and brought it to keggers. We spent that night just talking, vibing and slipping into a comfortable togetherness like our days as a couple. She wanted the glass bad. My female friends actually thought I could spin this one night into a reunion despite us being 600 miles apart come Monday. Her three friends cockblocked us both with a weird combined effort of switching who would be hugging her at the moment as the clock got closer to 2am. Graduation night brought us together, and we spent the evening after the bars closed living out a Mitchell song. “Didn’t it feel good, we were sitting there talking, or lying there not talking, didn’t it feel good.” She got the glass. I left her place at 6am, packed my final belongings, slept for an hour, and then drove back 7 hours to Maine, trying to sleep in the back of a van as my aunt and sister made fun of my hungover, groggy state. I haven’t spoken to her in 13 years. I’ve seen one picture of her at another’s wedding, but I thought of her Tuesday night because of one song.
“We love our lovin’, but not like we love our freedom.”