Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition

By Larry David Smith | Go to book overview
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The Exemplars

Having established the ebb and flow of Joni Mitchell’s lifework, we now turn to specific exemplars that capture the internal workings of her various songwriting strategies. Our auteur may float here and there with her sonic urges—picking and choosing different sound designs to support her Earth Mother observations; however, when we consider the narrative strategies used to convey those views, we notice that a steady staple of storytelling structures is used to organize her thoughts. There is, then, a clear focus to the work from a narrative point of view. Instead of a random sampling of epics, comedies, tragedies, or other narrative forms, we witness a consistent framework that is systematically applied to suit Mitchell’s preconceived ends. While she may anxiously await some miraculous intervention in the recording studio, the auteur enters that situation with a narrative blueprint firmly in mind. Albums are preconceived projects with specific objectives; only their articulation is cast to the creative winds in the hope of unimagined innovation. Mitchell may seek to restrain her “critic” as she records her ideas, but the narrative architect who supervises the venture relies on storytelling tools that have been specifically honed for the purposes at hand. Those structures provided the playground for Mitchell’s creative child and, therefore, established certain parameters for the proposed project. As usual, there is method to the inventive madness—sounds and their arrangements may frolic in the studio playground, but the words flow from a more systematic process. Joni Mitchell always has a narrative agenda.

Before we begin, we should pause for an important observation: Joni Mitchell Is her art. This is not in any way to suggest that all of her work is autobiographical. On the contrary, from the very outset, the auteur used people, places, and things that she had seen, heard about, or imagined to


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Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition


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