Joni Mitchell is my art teacher

“One slap on the wrist for playing by ear and I went underground for 10 years.” Joni Mitchell played music when she was very young and then a piano teacher smacked her with a ruler (not an unusual practice at the time) when she began to play by ear at one lesson rather than “have the masters under [her] fingers] as she reported in her CBC interview. That shaming and discouraging attitude and most of all the thinking and quibbling that comes with that way of interacting sent her creative self and spirit hiding underground. She didn’t try music again for 10 years. That’s what I take her to mean by what she talks about at 29:00 above when she discusses why she produced herself. I used to sit at the piano when I was very young and play my feelings. One of my clearest, purest emotional moments was there. Then my mum heard me and laughed at me or commented.

i couldn’t tell you exactly what she said. I was very very young. But I have a clear memory of humiliation and self-consciousness knifing in. And the closing down that immediately happened. To play and give with my whole body and self anymore was too vulnerable and frightening. I took lessons, as I had to, for some period after but I never felt alive in it again.It’s come back only recently when I sing or play the drums which I’m just learning to do.

Listening to Joni Mitchell talk about about her insistence on producing herself as the protection (and efficiency as a matter of course) for your love for the music and process is making a whole lot of sense to me. It’s kind of stunning me. Oh, you just took that space and protected yourself? Wow. A woman with a boundary, and a love for her own truth is not something I get to see so often in public. Watch how often she corrects the (well-intentioned) interviewers in both of these conversations. It’s like her producing. She’s going to serve the truth of what she knows or is trying to find out without accepting another’s interpretation because that will serve some kind of politeness known and especially valued in little girls as “social skill.”

Right now the thing making the most sense in the world to me are these two recent Joni Mitchell interviews. (The one above and this one she did with the CBC). She was just in Toronto for Luminato where I am now. I didn’t get to see her in person but I feel more impacted by what I’ve been hearing in these, and knowing she was here than most everything else going on in my life. She says she feels bad for Jackson Pollock because “He was produced” (understood his work through someone else) and so “he never knew if he was good.” Joni Mitchell knows she’s beyond good. It’s just a fact. It’s astonishing and inspiring to see.