“The trick is if you listen to that music and you see me, you’re not getting anything out of it. If you listen to that music and you see yourself, it will probably make you cry and you’ll learn something about yourself and now you’re getting something out of it.” – Joni Mitchell
While in the midst of Pride Week here in Toronto, and in the coming weeks around the world, we were a bit surprised to learn that Joni Mitchell is known as a ‘diva’ within the LGBTQ community. While the word ‘diva’ tends to be associated with images of glamorous, done-up pop icons, we’d like to focus on the terms evocation of strong female artists like Mitchell who’ve become a central part of the identity of many individuals in the LGBTQ community.
Within the pages of Gathered Light: The Poetry of Joni Mitchell’s Songs, the diversity of the reflections in terms of both contributors and content are a testament to Mitchell’s ability to transcend race, gender, and sexuality. One of many noteworthy inclusions in Gathered Light is a personal story by Peter Kouzmov based on “Sex Kills” from Mitchell’s 1994 album, Turbulent Indigo.
All these jackoffs at the office The rapist in the pool Oh and the tragedies in the nurseries Little kids packin’ guns to school The ulcerated ozone These tumors of the skin This hostile sun beating down on This massive mess we’re in! And the gas leaks And the oil spills And sex sells everything And sex kills Sex kills Sex kills…
– Sex Kills
The lyrics are pulled straight from the headlines of the late-twentieth century, speaking to rampant crime, fear of AIDS, and our deteriorating environment. In Kouzmov’s story titled Tides, he talks about life in Europe during the fall of the Berlin Wall, and how he clutched to his copy of Turbulent Indigo as his friend was dying of AIDS, and civil unrest erupted in the streets below. Peter would eventually move from Europe to America, and into the 21st century, but Mitchell remained right beside him, at every intersection in his life.
Joni Mitchell’s confessional aesthetic was truly ahead of its time, with expressions of love, lust and regret that few singers of her generation could match. One of Mitchell’s most personal tracks is “Cherokee Louise” from her 1991 album, Night Ride Home.
Ever since we turned thirteen
It’s like a minefield
Walking to the door
Going out you get the third degree
And comin’ in you get the third world war
– Cherokee Louise
“Cherokee Louise” tackles Native American struggles and the story of a childhood friend who suffered sexual abuse. Patricia Wilson is one of the contributors who unravels the song in About Two Girls. Wilson discusses her visceral reaction to the song, as it brought back vivid memories of her closeted childhood: “It’s about the emotional abuse visited upon young girls of that era: one foot in the world of childhood, one toe into adulthood, pushed over the line too soon by the very adults who believed they were protecting us “for our own good.” While touching on very dark topics, Mitchell never abandoned her vision of the free, resilient woman, and throughout “Cherokee Louise” she includes words that point to happier moments and the possibility of finding joy once more. During the darker days of LGBTQ identity, Mitchell’s honesty and troubled lyrics were the closest thing some could find to a representation of their life.
John C. Sanders is another contributor in Gathered Light who shares his story about how revelatory Mitchell’s’s music was for him as a gay 16-year-old teen, looking for inspiration in Los Angeles. His love affair for Mitchell began in 1986 when he found out she wrote “The Circle Game,” and would last a lifetime.
We believe the endless admiration for Joni Mitchell in the LGBTQ community and beyond comes from her sense of humanitarianism and dedication to self-examination, touching on essential themes of longing, love and acceptance that everyone can relate to. Her individual spirit and resilient character will forever strike a chord with those who are looking for kindness and communication. We hope the reflections inGathered Light inspire you seek out your own personal truths.
Happy Pride from the team at Three O’Clock Press!