Monday, December 23, 2013

Time For A Joni Mitchell-Morrissey Story


Like Obama's, this was a tough year for Morrissey. When his band wasn't being food poisoned at gigs, he was in the hospital with serious health problems. He was forced to cancel so many concerts that he lost the ability to get tour insurance. On the other hand his book, Autobiography entered the British charts at #1 and sold more copies its first week than Keith Richards' did. The year started with Morrissey stepping into a political controversy, telling an interviewer he had toyed with the idea of voting for England's version of the Tea Party, UKIP. "I nearly voted for Ukip. I like Nigel Farage a great deal," he said. "His views are quite logical-- especially where Europe is concerned, although it was plain daft of him to applaud the lavish expense of the royal wedding at a time when working-class England were told to cut-back, shut-up and get stuffed." In fact, Farage responded to the media, through Gawain Towler, a spokesperson, by worrying that Morrissey's negative comments about the monarchy could make the UKIP look bad. He called the complement a "double-edged sword. He said a lot of unpleasant things about the royal family which we wouldn't agree with. He's a fascinating individual, but we didn't think, 'We must pick up the phone and ask him to open for Nigel [Farage] at the conference.'" His loss.

I haven't seen Morrissey since I retired from Reprise. I was thinking about him the other day because I wanted to find a promo CD for Alan Grayson, not just Congress' best member but also Joni Mitchell's biggest fan. Morrissey is also Joni Mitchell's biggest fan-- or was at one time-- and one day I persuaded Joni to allow Morrissey to interview her for a series we did at Reprise called WORDS + MUSIC This one was a promotional tool for radio stations upon the release of 2 albums, Hits and Misses. I had, over the years proposed a number of things like this to Morrissey. I had never seen him so excited about any of them, including television appearances meant to introduce him to bigger out-of-the-box audiences. This is from Autobiography: "I am back in the same studio some weeks later to watch a taping of Friends, having been invited to Reprise Records. Friends has become the most popular TV show in the world, showing life as it is commonly lived in America's carefully preserved unreality. The cast is friendly, and I am immediately taken aside by the scriptwriters and asked if I'd jump in on a newly jumbled plotline where I appear with the character Phoebe in the Central Perk diner, where I am requested to sing 'in a really depressing voice.' Within seconds of the proposal, I wind down the fire-escape like a serpent, and it's goodbye to Hollywood yet again." Fortunately, the Joni episode worked out much better. We tooled over to a Joni photo shoot in Hollywood one afternoon with a tape recorder. She seemed to like him very much, especially after he started asking his questions.

It turned out that Grayson also likes Morrissey's music and when I told him about the interview, he was excited to hear it. See that Soundcloud at the bottom on the page? That's it. But here's how it began:
Morrissey: Do they still refer to you as a female songwriter? Because it’s such a ludicrous-- well, it’s become such a ludicrous title because to be called a female songwriter…

Joni: Implies limitations.

Morrissey: Well, it implies that it’s not a real songwriter.

Joni: Yeah.

Morrissey: I mean, you couldn’t imagine, for instance, saying Paul McCartney’s a great male songwriter.

Joni: Right. Well, they wouldn’t do it that way. But I mean this has always been true of women in the arts. We supposedly made some progress in this century. We got the vote for one thing. But if you take the female impressionists, there were several of them that were very good, and they were not really allowed to belong to the academy. There was an extra “A” in front of their name, associates of the academy. So-- and it was said of them that they were incapable of really tackling the important issues that men could tackle, that, you know, not that the subject matter of the impressionists was particularly important. It was just mostly delightful it seemed to me, people boating, people on beaches, you know, landscapes, so on. But they seemed to think that women could only handle domestic situations. And Mary Cassat painted women and children very beautifully, and that seemed to confirm it, but she had all the chops that they did.

One would think in this time period that I came along-- mind you, there weren’t very many women writing and singing. There weren’t as many women as there are in the business now definitely. There were only a few of us…

Morrissey: But to use the expression “female songwriter” is to imply that the word songwriter belongs to men.

Joni: Yes.

Morrissey: So do they still in this country call you call you a female songwriter?

Joni: Well, they tend to lump me always with groups of women. You know, the women of rock. I’ve been always lumped in-- I always thought, well, they don’t put Dylan with the men of rock. Why do they do that with me, with the women of rock, always within the context of the women that were happening within every decade I would get lumped in in that same manner.

One of my favorite compliments that I ever received was from a Black blind piano player, Henry, I don’t know what his last name was. And said to me, “Joni, you know, you make genderless, raceless music.” And I thought, well, I hadn’t set out, you know, saying “I’m going to make genderless, raceless music,” but in some part of the back of my mind, I did want to make music that crossed-- I never really liked lines, class lines, you know, like social structure lines since childhood, and there were a lot of them that they tried to teach me as a child. “Don’t go there.” “Why not?” “Well, because they’re not like us.” They try to teach you those lines. They start at about 12. And I ignored them always and proceeded without thinking that I was a male or a female or anything, just that I knew these people that wrote songs and I was one of them.

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