Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition

By Larry David Smith | Go to book overview

Introduction

When music historians speak of the “love song” as a songwriting theme, their thoughts instantly turn to the troubadours of southern France and their pivotal contributions to that genre’s development. As eleventh-century popular music crawled away from the Church’s shadows and toward such secular notions as love and happiness, these Provencal poets paved the way. How important are the Provencal troubadours to art history? Consider Reverend H. J. Chaytor’s comments from his 1912 book, The Troubadours: “Few literatures have exerted so profound an influence upon the literary history of other peoples as the poetry of the troubadours.” There seems to be a strong case to be made in support of Chaytor’s claim. After all, the romantic poetry that flowed from the pens of French poets who dared to comment publicly on that which had been so private for so long was quite an artistic innovation as well as a literary invitation for “other peoples” to do the same. Just as Chaytor suggests, the troubadours appealed to more than their audiences’ hearts. They unshackled the literature of the Western world, initiated secular commentary on human affairs, and introduced music with a recognizable personality.

Though they typically concentrated on romance, Chaytor reports the troubadours’ subject matter included “Not only love, but all social and political questions of the age.… They satirised political and religious opponents, preached crusades, sang funeral laments upon the death of famous patrons, and the support of their poetical powers was often in demand by princes and nobles involved in a struggle.” Clearly, these celebrity tunesmiths were harbingers of free speech, daring to explore controversies and personalities that had heretofore been off-limits. While contemporary events may have captured their attentions from time to time (and lined their pocketbooks),

-xiii-

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Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - Joni Mitchell 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Artist 5
  • Chapter 2 - The Impulse 25
  • Chapter 3 - The Oeuvre 37
  • Chapter 4 - The Exemplars 101
  • Part II - Elvis Costello 123
  • Chapter 5 - The Artist 127
  • Chapter 6 - The Impulse 151
  • Chapter 7 - The Oeuvre 165
  • Chapter 8 - The Exemplars 233
  • Part III - Conclusion 251
  • Chapter 9 - The Auteurs 253
  • References 289
  • Index 309
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