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Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words

by Malka Marom

In the rare interviews she gives, Joni Mitchell doesn’t hold back. This is even truer in Malka Marom’s new book about the musician’s life and creative process. Mitchell comes across as more candid and outspoken than usual, likely due to the fact that Marom is part of Mitchell’s inner circle of friends. The two met in 1966 in Toronto’s Yorkville coffeehouse scene, where Marom performed in the duo Malka & Joso.

Joni Mitchell (Malka Marom)Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words is a set of condensed, yet still lengthy interviews Marom and Mitchell conducted in 1973, 1979, and 2012. Marom intersperses the transcriptions with Mitchell’s lyrics – usually from a song mentioned during the conversation. We also get private photos, images of Mitchell’s paintings, and snippets of interviews with Mitchell’s manager Elliot Roberts, producer Henry Lewy, and others pivotal to her career.

Despite adding variety, these elements often interrupt the flow of conversation and aren’t given any context. A lack of context in general marks the book – Marom adds no commentary aside from the introduction. This is especially challenging with someone like Mitchell, who speaks in a stream-of-consciousness way, full of tangents and obscure references. Marom asks for clarification here and there, but Mitchell seems averse to explanation.

The final interview’s emphasis on lyrics slows things to a crawl, but the wide-ranging early interviews fascinate, touching on Mitchell’s life-changing childhood battle with polio, experiments in jazz, and dedication to originality and artistic growth. The singer’s unguarded nature allows a look into her romantic life (oh, that Leonard Cohen), loneliness, challenges with being a bandleader to a bunch of men, and contradictions (she does not consider herself a feminist).

Though the strictly interview-based approach has its challenges, the major advantage is that we get to be intimate witnesses to Mitchell’s journey from thirtysomething folksinger negotiating her newfound success to a hardened, stubborn 69-year-old who’s lived through waxing and waning public interest and still views herself as an outsider.

There are some good one-liners, too. On her preference for sustained chords, which she calls “chords of inquiry,” Mitchell says, “Men don’t like them because they like resolution, just like they do in life.”