My friend Sharon came over this morning exclaiming about the weather and singing, “The wind is in from Africa, last night I couldn’t sleep….” Before she left, I dug out my old copy of Joni Mitchell’s Blue and played “Carey” for her. We both sang along, eyes closed, me holding my son and dancing with him. It was awesome.
I still know most of the words to most of the songs on Blue. It was one of the first records with which I fell deeply and personally in love. I was 17, I got an original faded copy from Solo Records on Woodward Avenue, “home of the $1 record.” The building was cement block, painted mint green, with SOLO RECORDS painted by hand in black on the side of the building. I used to drive there by myself in my mother’s copper Citation and look for things I’d heard about. It wasn’t a hip place and I don’t remember ever shopping there with a friend. I remember there were records I never found — I was always hoping to score a Velvet Underground LP (respect to Lou Reed), etc. — but it was reliable for a certain kind of unfashionable Boomer pop-folk. While my friend Andrea was buying R.E.M. and Jane’s Addiction and the guy I liked was into Pere Ubu and The Stranglers, I bought a James Taylor record, some 70s-era Paul Simon solo stuff, Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Nashville Skyline. There were many times throughout my life when admittedly it was the dudes around me influencing what I listened to but these purchases were all mine. Not that these were revelatory choices, I bought a lot of Classic Rock Lite, but they were my choices and not related to connecting with my peers or impressing anyone. This was music to listen to alone in my room. Joni Mitchell’s Blue was the ultimate 17-year-old-girl-alone-in-her-room-dreaming-and-moping record for me.
After Sharon left, I played the record a number of times throughout the day. “Little Green” still kills me, because I remember listening intently to the lyrics and understanding that it was about a lost child. It made me think of my missing father, even though the story in the song doesn’t match my story perfectly. But there’s the man who leaves for California “hearing everything’s warmer there” and that line said it all about the ease with which it seemed people could walk away. The ideal of freedom warmer than a lover’s body. Warmer than a baby’s hand. (A BABY’S HAND!) My parents met in California. I was from California. The fact that my mother returned home to give birth to me in Michigan didn’t change that. Even though I’d never been there, it was where I started.
My mother used to tell me this story when I was young that for a while when she lived in California, she felt a presence around her. She said she felt the sensation of wings brushing against her face. After a while — how long did this go on? I don’t know, I wish I could ask her now — she was overcome with the belief that this presence had nowhere to go. She felt empathy for it, its banishment, and she told me she tried to communicate with this unseen but palpable “presence” that if it needed somewhere to go that she would make room for it inside her own body. The feeling went away. Later she learned she was pregnant.
It’s an odd story to tell your illegitimate daughter.
I never questioned its veracity, she never presented it as a metaphor. She never used words like angels or fairies or anything that would place the story squarely within the language of fantasy. She was very matter of fact about it. She didn’t even preface the story with, “Don’t tell anyone this or they’ll think that I’m crazy, but…” Which is what I would do.
I always remember the line from “Little Green” that goes “there will be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow” — the flower that was the first to come up in front of my grandparents’ house every spring.
Before she left today, Sharon said, “You know, I like Joni Mitchell. I like that she has a relationship with her daughter now.”
I said, “Yeah…”
I didn’t like the footage available for “Little Green,” but this is another song from Blue that I love love love. And the performance is really charming and girlish. And again: California.