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26 April 2010

Joni Mitchell’s anxiety at being an influence: On Antony, Joanna Newsom, Cat Power, Rufus Wainwright

Joni Mitchell is a hero to me, one of the greatest & most uncompromising songwriters of the 20th century and, in many ways, one who stands out as the greatest model for the kind of musicians advancing the cause of songwriting in the 21st. However, this Q&A from an Los Angeles Times piece about actor John Kelly performing her songs in drag finds her strenuously denying that influence. (And, also, putting forth an interesting take on the work of her peer Bob Dylan.)

Why oh why are our best artists always so contrarian, so complicated?

    Los Angeles Times: Of late, Joni, you’ve been a major influence on young, current artists with unique voices: Antony Hegarty, Joanna Newsom, Chan Marshall of Cat Power, Rufus Wainwright.

    Joni Mitchell: Those are theatrical voices, which is a whole other thing. That’s a good game, because it’s small. It never gets too lucrative, so those artists never have to see the puke of it all. I didn’t really go for the big dog race, anyway.

    Los Angeles Times: As well, you’ve had experience becoming a character outside yourself [Mitchell caused controversy when she appeared as an African American male on the cover of her 1977 album, “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”].The folk scene you came out of had fun creating personas. You were born Roberta Joan Anderson, and someone named Bobby Zimmerman became Bob Dylan.

    Joni MItchell: Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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