Joni Mitchell – Blue Reprise MS 2038 (1971)
Blue tends to be cited as one of Joni Mitchell’s best albums, if not her very best. This is difficult to understand. She has better albums: Ladies of the Canyon, Court and Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. Her vocals are a little shrill here too. That’s not to say that this is a bad album, by no means, but in a larger context it falls short. What is interesting is how the songwriting makes Blue sort of emblematic of the failures of the post-1968 hippie culture. With introspection providing almost hermetic boundaries, the endless navel-gazing wallows in newly-permitted formal freedoms to “live your own life” without really challenging structural constraints or, more to the point, the people who set the ground rules and contours of those permitted freedoms. In other words, this sets up the failure to truly have self-determination and re-make the world in a new way. There is an element of settling for positive but (relatively) small concessions that in the long term further dependence on the forces of misery granting those concessions. The problem, of course, is that none of this is recognized in Mitchell’s songs. They have a satisfaction that implies the job is done and all there is left is to get on with life outside of the problems others create. But it doesn’t work that way. Maybe Mitchell’s true self is paradoxically creating and participating in the situations and relationships she (rightly) sees as unfulfilling and hurtful? It’s the same troubling short-sightedness that plagues things like Jack Kerouac books — Dharma Bums especially. So you “get away.” Then what? You might say this confuses the starting line with the finish line.