The musical hue is blue.
The message seemed simple enough too; this was an elegy to a lost bohemia.
At the turn of the 70s a sadness permeated American pop culture.
The hippie generation had stumbled and wasn't getting back up, the 60s, that decade of musical innovation and innocence had had its heart ripped out by Manson, Vietnam, Bobby Kennedy's assassination and the disintegration of the Beatles.
That nirvana had been compromised by a local Greek entrepreneur who made the hippie haven into a sightseeing tour; concreting over the muddy town square to accommodate the tourists.
'They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.'
Joni knew that travel stimulated her muse and wanted to break free from the claustrophobic rigors of the music industry. She'd made 3 successful albums since 1968 and her apparently idyllic LA lifestyle as a lady of the canyon was starting to pall.
"I was being isolated, starting to feel like a bird in a gilded cage."
She took with her a mountain dulcimer on which she composed and played for her fellow cave dwellers. Her monastic environment colored her writing.
'The wind is in from Africa'.
The caves were on an arm of land that expended into deep water.
Joni was surrounded by one colour: deep blue.
'Blue' was not so much a love letter to the loss, more a mournful recognition that the ideal of the comforts of the Laurel Canyon community were a thing of the past. She'd had affairs with Graham Nash and James Taylor but her love life was tainted and tempered by an ever inquisitive, demanding, almost self destructive muse.
'Oh I hate you some, I hate you some, I love you
Oh I love you when I forget about me'
Joni laments lost love specifically but the fanciful sorrow is both introspective and projected. Here was a lady, alone, band less. What could she do but make her own way, muttering as she meandered, inquisitive and vulnerable. 'Will you take me as I am?' A mind in pursuit of meaning; she asks a lot of questions but recognizes that there aren't always answers. Sometimes it's enough just to ask the question and recognize the wonders of mystery and the inevitability of loss; acknowledging that "sometimes there'll be sorrow". Sure, Joni's lost and lonely, but there's adventure in her journey and she's meeting it head on and wide eyed. I love the dawning openness of Joni's expression in this photo taken at the time...
"The beauty as a listener is you have an option. Either you can see yourself and your humanity in the songs, which is what I'm trying to do for the listeners. Or you can say 'that's the way she is and equate the songs with me. The richest way, the way to get the most out of it, is to see yourself in it."
She colours her canvas carefully but here's no bile in the recognitions; just a big broken hearted sigh.
'Blue' strikes at the heart of introspection.
Blue, in Joni's own words 'gave melancholy its proper due.'
"What I did was bring just a little more detail to pop lyrics like 'I feel blue' for example, pairing it with more specific character and metaphors and making the music actually feel blue with what I call my chords of inquiry. I was trying to grow up the American pop song into an art song.'
Joni colours her characters and metaphors artfully with an obvious sense of compassionate responsibility. There's no saccharine in the nostalgia. Neither is there bitterness or self pity. She doesn't harangue or bang on. She risks all, unveils her mysteries, makes herself vulnerable, strips herself bare and asks 'will you take me as I am?' In laying her soul bare, confession is a major part of the process. She sublimates herself to achieve the sublime. Shame surely leads to salvation. At the time her contemporaries wondered at her revelations. Was she revealing too much?
"They were embarrassed for me. Because the popular song had been about posturing. It had been self-aggrandizing. The feminine appetite for intimacy is stronger than it is in men. So my songwriter friends listened and they all shut down, even Neil Young. The only one who spoke out was Kris Kristofferson. 'Jesus Joni,' he said. 'Save something for yourself.'"
This is as genuine and as generous as it gets.
As she sings, so the songs become her.
She recognizes her moment, acquaints herself with her (gulp) inner self... and moves on.
It's almost as though the song itself is a baptism.
Holy water is seemingly everywhere.
She was all in black but for a yellow pony tail
that trailed from her cap, and bright blue gloves
top of the world. And there, with a clatter of blades,
she began to braid a loose path that broadened
into a meadow of curls. Across the ice she swooped
and then turned back and, halfway, bent her legs
and leapt into the air the way a crane leaps, blue gloves
lifting her lightly, and turned a snappy half-turn
there in the wind before coming down, arms wide,
skating backward right out of that moment, smiling back
at the woman she'd been just an instant before.
There's a difference, a difference that needs to be celebrated daily.
Here was another blithe spirit, kindred but different.
Our journeys are similar.
We're both searching for meaning.
We're both searching for love.
We're both searching for home.
We can see the signs better if we have another perspective.
Blue flows beautifully and is imperfectly perfect because, for all of its undeniable progress, it is unresolved; not quite long enough; the river doesn't quite reach the sea.
Yet still, the raw, tender beauty of Joni's artfully nuanced song unwinds like a river.
There's serenity on the surface, but the river is deep and, ultimately, unfathomable.