Behind the Lash and the Circles Blue

Joni Mitchell

It’s hard to describe the immensity of the influence Joni Mitchell’s music has had over both my music, my personal life, and even my artistic direction. I didn’t hear her until KNX-FM in LA played her song, The Priest one winter day in 1969. FM radio was still rather new in those days and it brought with it commercial-free, sophisticated music. Instead of pop singles, FM’s playlists were made up mostly of album cuts, introducing listeners to music not deemed “hit material” by AM stations. Once I discovered FM I never went back to AM. While I know that I’m not the only singer-songwriter who fell under Joni’s spell all those years ago, her music had a way of feeling personal. Simpatico. But then again, I wasn’t alone in this. Not by a long shot.

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I first heard her name when I was singing outside the fish and chips shop in Haight-Ashbury, playing my 12-string and trying to earn enough to buy some dinner. A guy stopped and listened to me for a while, then said to me, “You sound a lot like Joni Mitchell.” I wasn’t too happy to hear that; I’d worked very hard to develop a guitar and vocal style that would be all mine. When my stint in the Haight was over, I went back home to southern California. I’d forgotten the name, but not the comparison. When I finally heard her I realized I was in trouble. It was Joni’s upbeat songs that made my heart sink, as much as I liked them. The rhythms, the strumming, the chording… songs like Conversation and Chelsea Morning were enough like some of my own songs that I knew I was going to be thought of as an imitator rather than an innovator. I heard the comments from time-to-time, but I never really knew what to do about it.

But Joni was something beyond what I was. Exceptional, something else, indefinable. She is a Renaissance Woman of the highest order. Between Joni Mitchell and Anaïs Nin, the decade of my early twenties was a time of radical change, of recreating myself almost daily, of learning how to live artfully by treating my life as if it were my canvas. They taught me to run toward love, afraid of missing an experience rather than of being hurt. They taught me to express myself through anything I put my hand to, and they taught me to be unapologetic where my identity as an artist is concerned. What a pair of women to have as muses!

A year later I was living in Laurel Canyon, in a house where Joni had spent a great deal of time when Steven Stills lived in it around the time of Woodstock. We knew many of the same people, but we never met. We always just missed each other. The first time I heard her Blue album, I was sitting in a beanbag chair looking out at the city below late one night, headphones on. She’d gone far beyond where I was, musically. I no longer had to worry about being compared to her. (You can read an old blog entry I wrote about this period of my life by clicking here.) Encountering her music actually sent me in another direction, though, one that worked well for me through the following years.

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Joni painting by the pool at Shady Oak, the house I lived in not long after.

As I write this, Joni is in the hospital after having been found unconscious in her home in LA. I hope morning brings good news, but if not, we need not fear losing her, because the music and the poetry of both her work and her life will remain to inspire us for a long, long time.

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Visit Joni Mitchel.Com

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Dog Days

Nigel

I can’t remember a time growing up when I didn’t have a dog. My first, a Dalmatian named Lady, was given to me when I was barely four. She didn’t last long, though. When she bit me Dad decided she had to find another home. Next was Skibo, a black Cocker Spaniel. She was our family dog until I was 16. When Skibo (pronounced Skee-bow) was about five we got another dog, a black miniature Poodle (the mid-size, not the tea cup). He was my favorite and lived to be my eldest son’s first dog. When Skibo and Pierre died in their turns, we adopted Shadow, a Cockapoo. She was really my mom’s dog, but she took to me.

When I remarried we got an Irish Setter we named Essau, but when the divorce happened, he went with my ex-husband. I went through a terribly unsettled period then and somewhere in there I acquired an Old English Sheepdog, Sebastian. I had to find him a new home when I moved to England. I went a few years without a dog then, but as soon as I was more settled I got a black Labrador Retriever named Cleo, but we just called her The Lug. Don’t ask… The Lug had a good and happy life and was a great dog and, when she died of cancer in her old age, I got a Yorkshire Terrier named Fritz. He was a rescue dog and I loved him as much as I’d loved Pierre. What a pal! Fritz saw me through a lot of tough times during the year I spent as my dad’s primary caregiver at the end of his life. Many nights I cried, and Fritz was there to comfort me or make me laugh. What a dog!

After Fritz was gone I just couldn’t invest myself in another dog friendship. I moved to Stillwater, where we were adopted by a cat whom we call Lowrider. Eventually I started to miss the companionship of a dog and, being ill and rather housebound, I decided it was time. Enter, Nigel. A Dachsador, Nigel was born to Ville’s Miniature Doxie, Pepper. When Ville rescued her, she had no idea the little dog was preggers, or that the sire was a Labrador.

Wait. Whut?

Did your head just spin? The breeding was a result of neglect on the previous owners’ part. Pepper had five pups, but only two survived, a female (Annie, who lives in Edmond with some friends of ours) and Nigel. Even Nigel barely survived the ordeal (oddly, Pepper made it through just fine). Ville had to give Nigel mouth-to-snout resuscitation to get him to breathe. He won my heart and I brought him home.

Nigel at six weeks

I’ve never been a big Dachshund fan, but I figured the Labrador half of him would balance things out a bit. Wrong. Nigel is a Dachshund on crack. Everything is super-sized. His playfulness, his intelligence, his alertness, his vocabulary, his protective instincts, his stubbornness, and his bark. This is not a yapping dog. This is a dog with a deep, Labrador sized, full-chested, high-decibel bark and, because his hearing is so acute, he barks at everything. Every. Thing. Bicyclers, skateboarders, pedestrians, honking horns, an acorn dropping onto the roof, a flea crossing the road…

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Nigel is a great dog. If we could master this one issue, he could very well top Pierre—and even Fritz—as the smartest dog I’ve ever known. He’s a happy dog, too. One of this designer breed’s characteristics is their absolute joyfulness, and Nigel has it in spades. He loves babies and children and cats. There’s no one he doesn’t love. Nearly two years ago we adopted a kitten, L’il Mozie, and I swear he and Nigel are brothers. They play and chase and groom, friends to the end.

I love Nigel to bits and pieces, but his barking taints it. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is seriously affected by adrenalin spikes, and excitement of any kind, either good or bad, send me into a full day of fatigue and lethargy. Nigel’s barking is the biggest threat I face each and every day. I’m at my wits’ end. I’ve tried everything from Dog Whisperer training to a collar impregnated with mommy hormones to activate his endorphins and keep him calm, to herbal doggy downers, but it’s no better than it was before. My next recourse is a citronella spray collar. Hey, maybe it’ll come in handy for me as well. Might keep the mosquitoes away this summer.

“Among God’s creatures two,
the dog and the guitar,
have taken all the sizes and all the shapes
in order not to be separated from the man.”
Andres Segovia

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May I Clarify?

clarifyOK, so I think a little clarification on some blog-related things might be a good idea in case any of you are a little confused. Basically, this blog is for my enjoyment as well as that of my family and friends and whoever else would like to join in. It’s not a promo blog, a business blog, a pundit blog, or a “see what a clever writer/comedian/homemaker I am” blog. It’s a personal blog and, as such, its tone and direction will change according to whatever I’m writing about. Some days writing, some days music, some days the family, and some days my usual stream of consciousness thoughts. If I had any direction in mind when I created it, it was to have a blog in the style of what I consider to be the peak years of personal blogging, that is, 2002 to about 2006. So here is a list of things about this new blog.

  • There will never be a buttload of widgets and apps in my sidebar. For one thing, they slow pages down for a lot of people and for another, they’re an eyesore.
  • NO ADS! That I typed that in all-caps should be a clue to how much I loathe Adsense ads on personal blogs.
  • I have not provided an RSS feed or any kind of subscription widget (except for my books and music mailing list, which is a separate entity), because I prefer people to make a personal visit to read my posts. In my opinion, it was the feed readers that started the whole decline in personal blogging long before the social networks took over. People weren’t visiting blogs anymore. Why bother when you can read posts in an email? I never liked that and I’ve never read ANY blog this way. It’s kind of like emailing friends and family instead of visiting them. If you want to keep up with this blog, you can “Follow” via my Networked Blogs widget. Also, when I write a new post, I always post the link in Facebook. I’ve gotten back to Tweeting it as well.
  • May I ask you to leave your comments here on the blog rather than in the aforementioned social networks? It doesn’t take any more time, and I miss the interaction. I know that simply clicking “Like” is easier (I do too much of that myself), but when I compare online conversation to actual verbal conversation, I think it’s tantamount to devolving to grunts. Between Liking, Favoriting, emoticons, and stickers, online dialogue may disappear altogether. Obviously, if you really want to keep your comments in Facebook or Twitter, I’m not going to get all mad or anything. I appreciate comments however they’re delivered! But if it’s not something your opposed to, I’d really prefer them to be left on the actual post. Thanks!
  • If you’re a new visitor and would like me to visit your blog, just leave a comment and give me your link.

That’s is, really. I move that this session be adjourned. All in favor?

Have a great day!

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It’s Monday; Be Awesome

Here in Oklahoma it’s easy to know that Spring has finally arrived when…

  1. People everywhere you go are sneezing.
  2. The Bradford pear trees blossom. Beautiful, yes, but devastating to many locals with allergies or asthma.
  3. The Forsythia blooms, but is mostly benign. As you can see in this photo, it grows along the fence between the neighbor’s yard and ours, but I don’t know anyone who’s bothered by it. I like bringing it in the house to mix in with my annual Öseterbaum and no one seems fazed in the least.
  4. Completely benign, the yellow Jonquils seem to grow in every front yard in this town and are quite welcome after the dead, brown winter.
  5. Lastly, but certainly not leastly (to bastardize a haggard old phrase) the tornado season arrives. This state’s already been hard hit, which is alarming. We still have April and May to survive, and May is the worst. Until then we shrug, philosophize and wonder how we can fit four adults, a dog, two cats, and about 9 guitars in a tiny 5×4 closet should the sirens go off. Where existing on the precipice of disaster is concerned, living in Oklahoma is much like living in Malibu: you plan for the worst and hope for the best.

It was a good weekend, all-in-all. After enjoying our Heather’s visit of four days and making it through the first storm of the 2015 tornado season, we settled into a weekend of beautiful weather and leisurely activities. Lunch at Da Vinci’s with Jerry and Judy was relaxing and chatty, and I was able to get to know both of them a little better. Such nice people, educated, creative, and vital. While I never talk politics or religion at the table, it’s hard not to with the current climate in our United States. I left all that to Nettl and Judy;

while they discussed current events, Jerry and I talked about potting wheels and gardening. Everyone was happy. I like them both very much. Back at home, we changed clothes and I got busy with the laundry. I didn’t even take a nap so I must be feeling better after last week’s Nigel-related stresses. And now, I’m watching the 1990s BBC original House Of Cards and relaxing with a glass or three of wine.

This week will largely be taken up with preparing for Friday night’s April Fools party here at our house. It’ll be neither a formal nor a large affair, just our closest friends wearing mandatory hats (the only requirement to attend. After the wine and munchies, that is). I don’t host parties as much as I used to. I regret this, but as we get older the fun of hosting sort of wears thin. And there’s the cleanup while nursing a hangover the next day. Consequently, my party days have lessened, considerably, but it’s been a while and I need an evening with my bohemian friends.

Starting tomorrow, I begin a rehearsal schedule of at least one hour a day. I admit that I’ve gotten far too lax with artistic self-discipline these past few years. If I want to get out on the house concert circuit, I need to get back into musical shape. My voice is still good, but I need to work on my range and also on diaphragmatic support. All this takes is some regular rehearsal time.

Here it is, another Monday. Have a great day!

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