Joni Mitchell’s life story is a fascinating tale of potent prophecy, brutal illness, righteous rebellion, inspired determination, frustrated celebrity, and bitter indignation. These traits float in and out of Mitchell’s life, and at times dominate her biography. Occasionally, these qualities overlap in powerful ways, as in the case of her inspired battle with polio, or her predictable musical pioneering, or her wrathful reactions to celebrity hypocrisies and industrial abuses. The one constant ingredient in all of these matters, however, is her intensity. Joni Mitchell’s career is a testament to a creative passion that defines her very being. For one who emerged in an era of peace and love platitudes and their nondirective philosophies, Mitchell is a fierce artistic force with little patience for personal, interpersonal, or commercial compromise. From the moment of her birth, it seems, Mitchell has been driven by her muse and its restless need for diverse expression—regardless of the personal or professional consequences. These characteristics have spawned musical innovation, personal sacrifice, professional recognition, audience admiration, audience rejection, and industrial recrimination in varying fashions. Though born with an undeniable talent, Joni Mitchell has endured an unrelenting battle for artistic freedom and integrity.
Let us begin our story with potent prophecy and the wonderful tale of “tea leaf” prognostication, Canadian style. When schoolteacher-turnedbank teller Myrtle “Mickey” Marguerite McKee accompanied a friend to high tea at Regina’s finest hotel, she humored herself by allowing a gypsy to read the tea leaves that adorned her empty cup. When the gypsy announced that Miss McKee would be married within a month, bear a child within a year, and die a long and agonizing death, well, what could she do but laugh? It was wartime (1942–43), and eligible bachelors were few and far between