I’ve mentioned my favourite Joni Mitchell album a couple of times before on this blog; recorded in 1976, Hejira is described as a folk/rock/jazz album by wikipedia. Bet that description helps a lot if you’ve never heard it.
Though I love it all, the track that appeals most to me is the title track, written after one of Joni’s many changes of relationship in those days (I always thought that her finding happiness in marriage to Larry Klein spelled the end of her greatness) in which she describes herself as
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
The track’s magic stems from Joni’s usual lyrical skill, but also from some superb musicianship. Adopting an unusual tuning for her guitar and playing with her own finger-picking style the track immediately displays some moody harmonies but then she is joined in song by Jaco Pastorius‘ inimitable bass playing, one minute descanting with soaring harmonies, the next growling beneath her. Even a beautiful clarinet cameo from Abe Most in the role of Benny Goodman can’t distract from the interplay of Joni and Jaco. Love it, love it, love it.
I vaguely recall that I was introduced to the album when a film clip was played on The Old Grey Whistle Test of Coyote, another great song from the album where Jaco really makes his presence felt. My memory is of imagery that matched the album cover yet a browse through youtube turned up no trace. Did I dream it? Quite possibly because the album cover has always had a strong impact on me too; in fact when I recently disposed of all of my vinyl, I couldn’t part with this one, even though I have all of the music digitally.
As with all of her albums Mitchell designed the album cover herself, although the photography is by Norman Seeff whose fascination with human creativity made him an ideal partner. Seeff and Mitchell collaborated several times but the imagery of Hejira is particularly striking, using photo montage to create an image which resonates with much of the lyrical content of the album.
Now I don’t know how difficult the montage process would have been in the days before digital, but with the recent snow I felt I had an opportunity to create my own version of the Hejira cover, or at least something that drew inspiration from it. On a long journey yesterday I was spoilt for choice of beautiful winter scenery, but my camera sensor was in need of a cleaning so I let it go. Today the camera is clean, and the snow is already in decline so I rushed out and grabbed some shots to create my own version. As ever my daughter Holly was patient enough to be dragged out when she’d just got herself warm after a long walk and became my model. I’m quite happy with the outcome, and she likes it too. Result (though she did think she looked like a Tellytubby!)
- Zadie Smith: My epiphany about Joni Mitchell. (newyorker.com)