Skip to main content
Displaying 1 of 1
Reckless daughter : a portrait of Joni Mitchell
2017
Please select and request a specific volume by clicking one of the icons in the 'Find It' section below.
Find It
Map It
Large Cover Image
Trade Reviews

  New York Times Review

READING "RECKLESS DAUGHTER," David Yaffe's biography of Joni Mitchell, I was surprised to discover how many of her songs I remember, more or less in their entirety. What a tribute, it seems, that her evocative character sketches and laments for doomed love - melodically unpredictable, literary, convoluted and mostly lacking catchy pop refrains - should have remained so familiar, and that they should still strike us as so beautiful, smart and inventive. Her music has aged well, partly because of the risks she's taken and the depths she's plumbed. She reminds us of the fact that the women who most passionately love and need men are, by necessity, the most acute and dispassionate observers of male behavior and of the ways in which men - rattling on, as if to themselves - reveal themselves to women. Her observational skills enable her to assume the personae - to channel the voices - of the opposite sex. Simultaneously boasting and complaining about the burden of power, a record producer celebrates a respite, as a "Free Man in Paris," from the weight of his own importance. In "The Last Time I Saw Richard," an embittered, lonely cynic projects his romantic disillusion onto his friend, mocking her taste for "pretty men" when he is the one who will marry "a figure skater," a union sealed with the purchase of a dishwasher and a coffee pot. Ruing the ease with which success can wreck an artist's pleasure in making art, "For Free" is yet another chapter in Mitchell's continuing report from the war between two irreconcilable desires: the need for independence and the longing for security. Inspired by her romance with Leonard Cohen, "A Case of You" is as rich with detail as a short story - a highly compressed narrative about a woman who will never get over the lover who describes (or masks) his feelings for her by paraphrasing Rilke and quoting Shakespeare. Among the things that make the song so unusual are that it begins with a quick, brainy argument that the woman wins, and it includes an admission that her memories of the lover mostly affect her writing. ("Part of you pours out of me / In these lines from time to time.") Mitchell sings it movingly, accompanied by the spare, insistent zither, but let me also recommend Prince's wrenching cover, a full-out emotional rendition that, by contrast, makes us aware of Mitchell's wry, knowing reserve. "Reckless Daughter" takes us from the Canadian town - Fort Macleod, Alberta - where Roberta Joan Anderson, born into a conventional household in 1943, loved nature and hated school. Childhood polio damaged her lefthand, a handicap that would later inspire her to use the open guitar tunings that became her trademark. Her family moved to Saskatoon, and she attended art school in Calgary, where she performed in folk clubs, and where she became pregnant after a brief affair. She married a singer, Chuck Mitchell, who agreed that she should surrender her infant daughter for adoption, a decision that would haunt her. Still in her 20s, she outgrew Mitchell after their move to Manhattan, where she played in downtown clubs and had her first major hit when Judy Collins recorded her song "Both Sides, Now." Professional and artistic triumphs followed, as did love affairs with, among others, Cohen, Graham Nash, James Taylor, Sam Shepard, Jackson Browne and Jaco Pastorius. We hear about the influences that included Dylan, Piaf, Nietzsche, Brando, Mingus and Mitchell's seventh-grade teacher, Mr. Kratzmann. Yaffe, a music critic and a professor at Syracuse University, has immense respect for his subject's stamina ("Joni became Joni through the ten-thousand-plus hours she put in on the road") and for the talent that Cohen recognized even in the speed with which she tuned her guitar: "Just to hold all those tunings in her mind indicates a superior intellect. I remember being overwhelmed by the fertility and the abundance of her artistic enterprise, because it was so much more vast and rich and varied and seemingly effortless than the way I looked at things." As "Restless Daughter" tracks Mitchell's musical development and her battles for creative control on tour and in the recording studio, its readers come to understand how much integrity was required for her to allow her love for jazz (never the most lucrative genre) to exert an increasing influence on her work. Equally admirable is her resilience in overcoming setbacks - dimwitted reviews, disappointing sales, an unproductive flirtation with 1980s synthpop - and her struggles with substance addictions, among them a four-pack-a-day cigarette habit that affected her voice. In a preface, Yaffe describes the enchanted night, in 2007, when he stayed up talking to Mitchell for an interview for The New York Times - and the ensuing warmth that stopped cold when the article appeared. "There were things about it that felt to her like an invasion, a betrayal." Years later, a mutual friend brokered a rapprochement, and throughout "Reckless Daughter," one senses Yaffe's reluctance to make the same mistake twice. I can't think of another biography in which I felt so strongly that the writer was worried about preserving the good opinion of his subject. Perhaps as a consequence, Yaffe declines to question some problematic choices, such as Mitchell's appearance in blackface on the cover of her 1977 album, "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter," and dressing as a black pimp for Halloween. While admitting that "what was troubling was that her desire to be the black man on the street superseded the unsettling history," he ascribes it to her innocence of the "historical baggage" of minstrelsy. This sounds a little dubious. I was alive in the 1970s, and no white person with any brains was unaware of the "baggage" of blackface. Yaffe assures us that "Chaka Khan, who, as a teenager, had been a member of the militant Black Panther party, had no problem with the cover of the album for which she provided vocals." And Yaffe manages to make things even worse when he attempts to explain Mitchell's behavior by quoting W. E. B. Du Bois on the "double consciousness" experienced by black people: "Joni in her own way was pushing back against the limitations of a society that didn't know quite what to do with her mix of creative muscle and distinctly feminine sensibility." Yaffe staunchly defends his subject from criticism; Rickie Lee Jones's accusation that Mitchell "didn't walk on the jazz side of life," Yaffe writes, prompts an outraged rebuttal: "Rickie Lee Jones sang with a fake black accent. Wasn't that pretentious?" Only at rare moments does the biographer let Mitchell's dark side - evident, for example, in how pitiless she can be toward former lovers and spouses - speak for itself. Chuck Mitchell was a "major exploiter," Leonard Cohen a "phony Buddhist" and "the high prince of envy." Mitchell's second husband, Larry Klein, was one of several "puffed-up dwarfs." James Taylor "was incapable of affection. He was just a mess." Uncritical admiration can make "Reckless Daughter" seem like a 400-page fan letter, though one certainly prefers Yaffe's approach to that of biographers who despise their subjects. Championing Mitchell, right or wrong, and trying to stay on her good side is not exactly the same as taking her seriously as a composer and performer. Ultimately, it hardly matters. The person who wrote and sang "Blue," "Court and Spark" and "Hejira" doesn't need protection from readers who, decades after those albums appeared, remember Mitchell's songs. Anthems not only of restlessness and heartbreak but also of intelligence, insight and courage, they are tributes to the power of music to imprint itself indelibly on the consciousness of its listeners. Only at rare moments does the biographer let Mitchell's dark side speak for itself. FRANCINE PROSE'S most recent novel is "Mister Monkey."

  Publishers Weekly Review

Drawing on in-depth interviews with Mitchell, her friends, and her musical associates, Yaffe (Fascinating Rhythm) paints a colorful and riveting portrait of a songwriter who has continually broken boundaries and explored new musical territories. In lively, bright prose, Yaffe traces Roberta Joan Anderson from her birth in Alberta, Canada, in 1943, through her early bout of polio, her marriage to Chuck Mitchell in 1964 (when she changed her name to Joni Mitchell), and the birth of her daughter in 1965. Yaffe describes Mitchell's steely resolve to make her own art, her emergence as a voice of her generation, her creative struggles in the 1980s and 1990s, and her recent recovery from a brain aneurysm. He brilliantly guides readers through Mitchell's evolution as a musician with vivid descriptions of the making of each of her albums from Song to a Seagull ("If drums and an electric guitar had been added to the mix, Joni would have produced some acid rock herself") through Shine in 2007. Yaffe introduces readers to the musicians with whom Mitchell worked, including Leonard Cohen, Graham Nash, Judy Collins, and Charles Mingus. The combination of fine writing and extensive access make this the definitive biography of a gifted songwriter and musician. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p> "She was like a storm." --Leonard Cohen </p> <p>Joni Mitchell may be the most influential female recording artist and composer of the late twentieth century. In Reckless Daughter , the music critic David Yaffe tells the remarkable, heart-wrenching story of how the blond girl with the guitar became a superstar of folk music in the 1960s, a key figure in the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 1970s, and the songwriter who spoke resonantly to, and for, audiences across the country.</p> <p>A Canadian prairie girl, a free-spirited artist, Mitchell never wanted to be a pop star. She was nothing more than "a painter derailed by circumstances," she would explain. And yet, she went on to become a talented self-taught musician and a brilliant bandleader, releasing album after album, each distinctly experimental, challenging, and revealing. Her lyrics captivated listeners with their perceptive language and naked emotion, born out of Mitchell's life, loves, complaints, and prophecies. As an artist whose work deftly balances narrative and musical complexity, she has been admired by such legendary lyricists as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and beloved by such groundbreaking jazz musicians as Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock. Her hits--from "Big Yellow Taxi" to "Both Sides, Now" to "A Case of You"--endure as timeless favorites, and her influence on the generations of singer-songwriters who would follow her, from her devoted fan Prince to Björk, is undeniable.</p> <p>In this intimate biography, drawing on dozens of unprecedented in-person interviews with Mitchell, her childhood friends, and a cast of famous characters, Yaffe reveals the backstory behind the famous songs--from Mitchell's youth in Canada, her bout with polio at age nine, and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption, through the love affairs that inspired masterpieces, and up to the present--and shows us why Mitchell has so enthralled her listeners, her lovers, and her friends. Reckless Daughter is the story of an artist and an era that have left an indelible mark on American music.</p>
Table of Contents
PrefaceNothing Lasts for Longp. xi
1All Things Considered, I'D Rather be Dancingp. 3
2Let the Wind Carry Me: Lessons in Womanhoodp. 19
3Will you Still Love me Tomorrow?p. 28
4A Common Modern-day Fairy Talep. 34
5Don't Give Yourself Awayp. 44
6The Word Man: Leonard Cohenp. 52
7Experiencedp. 64
8Cloudsp. 86
9Our Housep. 102
10Ladies of the Canyonp. 114
11Sandp. 122
12Bluep. 127
13Between Breakdown and Breakthroughp. 140
14The Sunshine Coastp. 150
15For the Rosesp. 156
16Star-Crossedp. 165
17Court and Spark: Something Strange Happenedp. 171
18Miles of Aislesp. 190
19The Queen of Queensp. 194
20Hejira and the Art of Losingp. 218
21Crazy Wisdomp. 225
22Mirrored Ballp. 243
23Don Juan's Reckless Daughterp. 253
24Mingusp. 261
25Nervy Broadp. 279
26Wild Things Run Fastp. 290
27Dog Eat Dogp. 307
28Emergency Roomsp. 318
29Save the Bombs for Laterp. 321
30Turbulencep. 336
31See You at the Moviesp. 348
32Curtain Callp. 368
33Just Like this Trainp. 374
Notesp. 377
Acknowledgmentsp. 393
Indexp. 397
Librarian's View
Displaying 1 of 1