Every year I dutifully perform the same ritual. I open a bottle of wine, sit down on my couch in reverent silence, and put a Joni Mitchell record on the turntable. Album after album, I listen intently and try to dabble in the various phases of her eclectic catalog. I usually end with the mother of all Mitchell classics: "Hejira," to which I say, "Somebody pass me the Motrin."
Aside from "Blue," which I love, I return to the same nagging feeling I've always had: Joni Mitchell makes me feel nothing. I respect her artistry, but I don't enjoy it. Her voice is almost too mercurial and grating to relate to. The songwriting, at times pure poetry ("And you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear" - sigh), feels so self-involved, there's hardly any room for me to engage with it.
I did, however, have a tiny epiphany recently. On a road trip, my friend and I agreed to play each other someone we've never liked. She didn't become a Joan Baez fan that night, but as the last strains of Mitchell's "Rainy Night House" lingered in the car like the smoke rings Mitchell probably blows, I started to hum the melody and - finally - feel a tug at my heartstrings.
-- James Reed