A journey to escape a hostile environment…

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.

Cover of "Hejira"
Cover of Hejira

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!)


Like Midas in a Polyester Suit

The consequence of listening to, and writing about, Joni Mitchell‘s Mingus yesterday is that today I have had The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines to deal with.  Not in the sense of a problematic domestic service provider, but in the sense of the song becoming an earworm.

Joni Mitchell – The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines

I shouldn’t complain; it’s a great song featuring the crispest of brass arrangements and a percolating Pastorius bass line coupled with some of Joni’s wittiest lyrics bemoaning her lack of fortune in the casinos while in the presence of a player with incredible luck;

But the cleaner from Des Moines
Could put a coin
In the door of a John
And get twenty for one

The persistence of Joni’s hooks did at least give me an idea of somewhere different for today’s portrait; one of the seaside amusement arcades.

It is literally years since I’ve been, but found that little had changed.  The slots machines still featured the same imagery

I’m losing my taste for fruit

The coin cascades remained full of loose change that would never see the inside of someone’s pocket,

and of course there was the scourge of every parent and idol of the Toy Story aliens; the Claw!


Even given the cool and cloudy day outside I was surprised how many people were in here, yet I saw no winners.  Apart from the proprietors of course.  Perhaps this was why the punters were in no hurry to have their picture taken as they left having lost pounds through a diet free method.

So I left the “fool’s paradise” and returned to my usual haunt along the promenade where I spotted Nyasha and his family.  This brave Zimbabwean was fresh from a dip in the North Sea when I encountered him, something I wouldn’t fancy although he assured me it wasn’t too bad!  Good timing on my part to meet him just as I left the flashing lights behind.

It’s just luck!



Uneasy listening

Choosing an album at random to listen to this morning, my finger settled on Mingus by Joni Mitchell, an album that, for me at least, effuses sadness. A collaboration between Mitchell and jazz bassist Charles Mingus recorded in the months leading up to his early death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he did not live to see its completion.

The music, which includes snippets of conversation in which Mingus speculates about his funeral arrangements and whether he will live longer than Duke Ellington, is sparse and experimental and includes Mingus’ tribute to the late Lester Young Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, and whilst Jaco Pastorius‘ arrangement of The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines is full of verve it serves only to underline the tragedy that this great talent would also be lost at the age of 35 in a bar room brawl a few years later.

In my opinion the recordings mark the end of Mitchell’s greatest period of creativity with both the frequency and quality of her output declining from this point onwards.

Seemingly, the beach wished to continue this elegiac mood.  Those who walked the sands were dressed for cooler weather, the skies were grey, and the kite surfers were inactive.  Even when they choose to move their great sails they didn’t seem to jump for joy.

Against this background I spotted John, an elderly man, sitting alone, staring out over the subdued vista below him through barely opened eyes.  He agreed to be photographed readily enough, and then went on his way, still alone.

There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain
It’s just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today

Joni Mitchell, Hejira