“Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell” by David Yaffe— A Blonde with a Guitar

Yaffe, David, “Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell” , Sarah Crichton Books, 2017.

A Blonde With a Guitar

Amos Lassen

When I lived in Israel, I once went to a small concert by a new female singer back then. Her name was Yehudit Ravitz and her career was just beginning. This had to be in the mid 1980s. Sitting next to me was a blonde with very red lips and I knew that I recognized her but could not remember from where. Much later in the concert Ravitz welcomed Joni Mitchell to Israel. Joni Mitchell was the kindest person I had ever met or so I felt that night. We spoke openly and then we were gone in our separate directions.

In “Reckless Daughter”, music critic David Yaffe shares the story of how the blond girl with the guitar became a superstar of folk music in the 1960s. Joni was a key figure in the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 1970s, and the songwriter who spoke resonantly to, and for, audiences across the country. She was

a free-spirited Canadian artist who never wanted to be a pop star. She would say that she was “a painter derailed by circumstances”. She went on to become a talented self-taught musician and a brilliant bandleader, releasing album after album, each distinctly experimental, challenging, and revealing. It is not only her music that is captivating, her lyrics are also captivating and filled with poetic perceptive language and naked emotion. Her words come from her life experiences, her loves, complaints, and prophecies. She wonderfully balances narrative and musical complexity and she has become an object of admiration in the music world for such greats as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and is beloved by such groundbreaking jazz musicians as Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock. She has influenced generations of singer-songwriters who would follow her.

This is quite an intimate look at Joni Mitchell. Author Jaffe uses in-person interviews with Mitchell, her childhood friends, and a cast of famous characters, to tell the backstory behind the famous songs. We are taken back to her youth in Canada, her bout with polio at age nine, and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption. We read about the love affairs that inspired masterpieces and we see why Mitchell has so enthralled her listeners, her lovers, and her friends. “Reckless Daughter” is both the story of an artist and the study an era that has left an indelible mark on not just American music but on music everywhere.

I sat down to read this at 2:00 in the afternoon yesterday and read straight through the night, mesmerized by the words just as I have been mesmerized by the lyrics to “The Blonde in the Bleachers” (my personal Joni favorite) and to those of “Ladies of the Canyon”.

“Joni Mitchell is an artist in every aspect of the word. David Yaffe knows the music and poetry and he knows Joni Mitchell. We are so lucky that he shares that with us. It seems that he has interviewed everyone important in Mitchell’s life to give us the definitive statement on the life and work of an artist who cannot be defined. He has something to say about Joni’s music, her poetry and her intellect and he understands all of it. I see now that is not enough to love her songs, we must also love the person behind them.

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