Joni’s foreground music

Newport Folk © Steven Rivieccio |

I stayed up past my bedtime the other night watching videos from the “Joni Jam’ at Newport Folk Festival, where friends surrounded Joni Mitchell and helped her perform some of her most memorable songs. Everyone was crying with happiness to see this 78-year-old woman doing her best to do her best. It was a struggle, but she made the effort and, because it was Joni Fricking Mitchell, everyone was overcome. It was sad because time has taken its toll and it was inspiring because of her determination and the love for the woman and her brilliant music.

There is such a thing as foreground music — music so compelling that it refuses to be in the background, music that forces you to pay attention.

Joni Mitchell recorded such music. It was not just perfect words in combination but the sounds and the tunes all coming together. Her first four, mostly acoustic/folk albums are priceless, but when she ventured further into electronics and new sounds and jazz — at the time she lost me after a while, or I lost her but found her again on further listens.

Of the singer-songwriters of that era, I think she has aged best. Generations sang “A Case of You” and “Both Sides Now” together Sunday on the Newport stage. The words of “Both Sides Now” are so much more poignant sung by a 78-year-old wise woman than by a twentysomething who was just figuring it out.

Joni Mitchell made foreground music for the ages.; tuck it into the background at your peril.

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