Tuesday, November 27, 2012

40 Year Itch: On Butterflies and Lilac Sprays

In Kicking And Dreaming, Nancy Wilson tells the story of searching for Joni Mitchell on Sechelt Island off the British Columbia coast. This is years before she became famous herself. Nancy had read that Joni owned an 80 acre farm on the 15 square mile island. The journey proved fruitless. Islanders who could have pointed the way usually sent Nancy in the opposite direction.

Though I can't prove it, I always felt I recognized the backdrop of Joni Mitchell's For The Roses. It couldn't be anything but an island on the Sunshine Coast, a slightly sunnier cousin of Washington's San Juan Islands. And the nude gatefold pretty much seals the deal.

But enough about the cover. Released in November of 1972, For the Roses offers a transition between the stark instrumentation of 1971's classic Blue and the Tom Scott/ soft jazz explorations of 1974's Court And Spark. While it may be some people's favorite Joni Mitchell album, For the Roses doesn't work for me anywhere near as well as the two albums surrounding it. Naturally there are songs that sounds like Blue ( "Banquet", "For The Roses") and those that sound like Court and Spark ("Barangrill" and the US#25 hit "You Turn Me On ( I'm A Radio)" which even gives us a glimpse into the forthcoming boho hit "Help Me").

Two of the more interesting cuts, at least to me, are "Blonde in the Bleachers" and "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire". The first one may very well be a message to Graham Nash about those "sweet mysteries" groupies offer but about my half way in it becomes a message to groupies about Graham Nash and all of the other rock n roll men:
 You can't hold the hand Of a Rock'n'Roll man
 Very long
 Or count on your plans With a Rock'n'Roll man 
 Very long 
 Compete with the fans For your Rock'n'Roll man 
 For very long

 And the astonishing lyrics of "Cold Blue Steel" relate an urban nightmare from the perspective of a junkie:
 A wristwatch, a ring, a downstairs screamer 
Edgy-black cracks of the sky "Pin-cushion-prick- Fix this poor bad dreamer!"


  For The Roses isn't the first Joni Mitchell album you should buy, but you're missing out if you ignore it altogether.

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