Song 39: Joni Mitchell, “All I Want” (1971)


The summer before I started college, I got really into a few records: Elvis Costello’s Brutal Youth, Radiohead’s The Bends, and Blue by Joni Mitchell.

I don’t remember why these were the big ones, but I haven’t gotten attached to many albums the way I did with those three, that summer. I remember driving around on the Cape, listening to them on the way to camp, my job at the local farmstand, and friends’ houses. They don’t sound much like each other, but they work with each other in a strange way.

Blue is one of the most perfect records ever. Every song is incredible, and the first song, “All I Want,” may be my favorite in the collection. Relationships are a hard business, and the frustration about what you’re trying to do and communicate, versus what you actually do and communicate, can be immeasurable. I may want to shine like the sun and shampoo you, but I’m undone by jealousy. So it goes.

Of course, that’s not the only way it goes, but Blue is an unnaturally sad group of songs. It’s got moments of happiness, but it was written when Mitchell, in her own words, “had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.”

Lucky us.


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