Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ – A Guide to Cooking on Gas in a Mature Practice?

Every time I write and every time I write this Blog I am hoping for surprises. To be honest, like most creative people I expect, I am always hoping not only to exceed what I thought were my current abilities as an artist and writer but also ( … oh dear in writing the ‘not only’ I have forgotten what the ‘but also’ was, perhaps a sign of ‘maturity’?. So let me think again … ah yes, that was it …) but also to ‘hit pay dirt’ as they say, to start ‘cooking on gas’ as they also say (though who this ‘they’ is we never seem to know, and I, for one, have never met ‘them’, to my knowledge).

‘Hitting pay dirt’ is slightly different from ‘cooking on gas’ I suppose, and I think both are desirable while the former is perhaps slightly preferable. Though I don’t mean here ‘pay’ necessarily with regard to cash or income, rather I just mean that – and to go back to the start – every time I write and every time I write this Blog I am hoping for, not only surprises in general but also the surprise of finding myself writing, not only better, not only consistently at a heightened level (that might just be ‘cooking on gas’), but writing consistently to a standard that I have occasionally only glimpsed here and there, now and then in my writing, and/or perhaps going beyond that, excelling and excelling-myself is, I suppose, what I mean.

You get older and sometimes you might feel your best work is behind you. You read old articles, essays and sketches and wonder how on earth you could have been so inventive, intense, witty and productive. Then again, aren’t your early works just a little ‘green’ (any reference to Joni Mitchell there was unconscious and unintended), i.e. a little hyperactive and over-stuffed with self-conscious displays of new-found abilities?

Yes, the mature writer (N.B. writing and maturity go together far better than some of my other youthful ambitions, such as football star, astronaut etc.) must appreciate that sooooo much has now been learned, and indeed can be ‘taken for granted’ concerning our abilities, after professionally writing, editing and publishing well over a million of words, that we have to turn our mind to concerning ourselves with other, perhaps ‘larger’ or ‘meta’ matters, e.g. issues of scale and form as well as particular audiences, editors, personal agendas or even ‘markets’. And, while concentrating on these meta matters, the writing itself tends now to take care of itself. Your ‘babies’ are too old now to require constant supervision, you just have to trust them to behave in a manner that you approve of, and hopefully to do well, and perhaps even do better than you expect them to.

Now, the great god of chance, who is one of my only consistent and trusted guides in life, just led us (see above) into an unexpected encounter with the artist Joni Mitchell. I have to confess she has been on my mind (or should I say “in my blood”) this week after pulling my vinyl copy of her classic album ‘Blue’ out of my collection, sitting myself down comfortably and listening to the whole masterpiece from end to end with no interruption other than that necessary to flip the record over to side two (which is not really an interruption but rather a crucial part of the ritual for which the running order was carefully designed).

I have to admit, I cried repeatedly and almost throughout, as I always seem to do when I listen to this album, or just listen to the artist’s voice on this album, a voice which, even if as a non-English speaker I didn’t understand her language, carries a special emotional timbre that I can’t find anywhere else in the world, and not even on any other Joni Mitchell album. I’ve mentioned before in this Blog how the tears that can come in response to a work of art always seem to me to mix the ‘salt’ of pure open-hearted pleasure, affect and admiration with the ‘pepper’ of acknowledging in some deep place that I will never make a work of art as great as the one that I am contemplating. I may be wrong about this mix, and perhaps it needs remixing but I hope you. the reader will concede and concur that there certainly are mixed emotions present in almost all lachrymose events.

Anyway, I’ll sign-off now, hoping that this rapid sortie into speculating once again on my own abilities as a writer, and my own qualities and experiences as a human being might have taken me a little further towards my ultimate goal of creative fulfilment and artistic attainment. Perhaps Joni Mitchell’s Blue can provide some kind of guide or bench-mark when attempting to attain our best work in our maturity … but then again, she was just twenty eight years old when she made it!


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