Tag Archives: Joni Mitchell

To Live Without My Music…

…would, as the song says, be impossible to do.

Besides writing and reading, the one thing I love to do most in the world is listen to music – and create some of my own, at times, when I feel like dusting off my old guitar and tuning up the vocal cords – and, some time ago, I sat down to make a list of songs I love, and why I love them.

I never got around to sharing it on the blog, for one reason or another (*ahem baby*) but I thought this might be an opportune time to give you all some listening pleasure, as well as an insight into my life – for what better way is there to crowbar open someone’s mind than to have a look at the music which has shaped them? (Well. You could look at the books which have shaped them, but you’re sick of reading about my favourite books, so…)

The Song I Listen to When I Miss Home

Helpless – Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young. This version is a live one, performed by Neil Young and the Band, the night of the Last Waltz. I can’t explain why – as I’m not from Ontario, nor anywhere near it – but this song screams ‘home’ to me. It has, like all of my beloved music, a lot to do with my dad.

The Song Which Means the Most to Me

I hesitate to say ‘favourite song’, because I love so many that I can never truly have a favourite. This one is up there with many others, including Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale, and it will always occupy a central spot in my heart. It’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes? by the irreplaceable, unmistakable Sandy Denny.

The Song Which Sings Freedom

Years ago I worked in a job I didn’t like much. Every day at 1 pm, I would be released for lunch and I had Nick Drake’s album Five Leaves Left in my CD walkman (oh, how cool I was!) This track, Time Has Told Me, was the first one, and I can’t hear its opening notes, even now, without thinking of freedom and a weight lifting off my shoulders.

The Song I Have Listened to Most Often

In my final year in university, one album got me through a very tough time. I lost a lot of friends, I faced tough exams, and I struggled with a lot of personal issues, and I had Jeff Buckley’s Grace on almost permanent repeat. So, any of the songs on that album would do as my ‘most listened’… but the title track, Grace, is the one I like the most. So, here you go.

The Song Which Makes me Yearn to  Sing

I learned to ‘sing’, if you can call it that, by listening to music as a kid. Nicolette Larson, Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gayle and most of all, the monumental Joni Mitchell shaped my dreams of what being a singer meant. My voice comes nowhere close, but a gal can dream.

The Song Which Reminds me of my baby

I’m never not thinking about my baby, of course. But, even years from now, this song will bring me back to our earliest days and months together, and it’s one I still sing every bedtime. Thank you, Mama Cass, for your voice. You’ve given my baby and me some very beautiful memories.

The Song Which Raises My Neck Hairs

I don’t know if it’s the intro, or the opening vocal, or just… everything, but this song makes something in me thrill. I never tire of listening to it, and I will never stop missing David Bowie. Here’s his Sound and Vision.

And, there you have it. There are ten thousand other songs I could have picked, for ten thousand other reasons, but this selection will do for now. Happy listening…


A Soul Timid, but not Meek

I am frightened by the Devil,
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid…

Image: michaelyung.com

Image: michaelyung.com

Joni Mitchell is a huge hero of mine. I’ve been in love with her music for as long as I’ve had ears (so, quite a long time now), and the lyric above – from ‘A Case of You’, on the majestic album ‘Blue’ – is probably my favourite of her songs. I’m not sure, exactly, why I love this particular set of lines so much; perhaps it’s because it says, to me, that being afraid is perfectly all right – so long as you don’t lose your curiosity, too. It’s natural to be scared of some things, but shutting your mind off from those things forever, without admitting even a thought which relates to them, is bad news.


That’s the thing with song lyrics, I guess. They mean different things to different people.

I’m a fearful type, by nature. Anxious, a worrywart, ‘worst-case-scenario’. If I were a fairytale character, I’d be Chicken Little.

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

Image: capstoneyoungreaders.com

I’m afraid of lots of things, some of them rational and some of them (all right, most of them) not. I’m a quietly controlled hypochondriac. I have a lot of sympathy for the guys who stand on street corners wearing ‘The End is Nigh!’ sandwich boards. I’ve often wondered if it comes from my interest in the Middle Ages – those guys lived, teetering, on the edge of instant annihilation for centuries, too. They were convinced, with every passing generation, that this would be the one. This would be the era in which Christ would come again and perform the final Judgement. Millenarianism was de rigueur.

But perhaps that was hope, more than fear. I think there was a bit of both mixed up in there. And maybe that’s a defining characteristic of fear – a tiny, tiny shard of desire mixed into the terror makes it all the more terrifying.

I’m thinking about all this because a close family member is jetting off in a few days to spend several months abroad. While there she plans to gain a qualification in something she hopes will lead to an exciting career, and I’m sure she’ll be successful. As well as that, no doubt she’ll have adventures and experiences which will leave long-lasting memories, and she will do things that I would not do, and things that I could not do, because I would be far too afraid to even try.

But there’s a little spark, deep inside me, which wishes I could just get over myself for long enough to give it a go. A tiny spark, now. Barely there at all, really. But there, all the same.

This woman – the adventurer – has already had a year abroad in which she did death-defying things, with every indication that she was having the time of her life. Fear didn’t seem to come into it, for her. It was all about the exhilaration, the joy, the celebration of what her body was capable of. I have cousins who, when they were children, were like chalk and cheese when it came to facing their fears. One of them would throw herself at any challenge, totally uncaring of how much she could hurt herself if it all went wrong, and another who was stiff and awkward and afraid. The second child would give everything a try, as far as she was able, but would end up causing herself an injury because her fear would get in her way. The first child was lithe and fluid and free – due to her fearlessness, as well as a natural athleticism – and never suffered any physical damage from her exploits.

I think the second child, the fearful one, took after me. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we are both oldest children, and statistically likely to be more cautious and less adventurous than the siblings who come after us.

There are different types of fear, for sure. I have faced plenty of my own personal fears – public speaking, standing up for things I believed in even when I was sure it would spell disaster for me, tackling academic challenges that I felt sure were beyond me – and I came through them all reasonably unscathed. It’s when it comes to physical things, like sport or heights or speed, that my terror overwhelms any desire I might have to take part. Things that would horrify other people are no bother to me, and things that others would do without a second thought are so far beyond my level of ability that I can’t even imagine doing them. I have a friend who lives right by a massive motorway junction just outside Dublin, and she drives around it with carefree abandon – and she always did so, even when she was new to the area. She doesn’t drive dangerously – in fact, she drives far more safely due to the fact that this particular snarled-up collection of high-speed traffic lanes doesn’t make her blood run cold, as it would mine – and she has never come even close to having an accident, thank goodness. If I had to do that drive, I’d cause a multi-car pileup within five seconds, and I know it.

But I’d love to be able to do what she does. I admire her for it. I just know I never will.

Perhaps the world needs all types of fearlessness, both the risk-taking type and the emotional type. I have lived long enough to know who I am, and to be aware that I have limitations, and to give myself a break when it comes to respecting those limitations. I have the desire to be an adventurer, but the flesh is weak.

But I can write about those who are fearless, and use my own tiny sparks of curiosity – my own sense of ‘being drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid’ – to fill in the blanks when it comes to creating characters who aren’t fearful of heights, or the dark, or of throwing off the shackles of the everyday and setting off on an adventure across the world with no real plan of how to get home.

Perhaps my own fearfulness will lead me to create better characters, even. Let’s hope so, at least. It has to be good for something – right?

Image: hybridtechcar.com

Image: hybridtechcar.com


Stuff. What is it good for?

Perhaps it’s the season – Christmas, and all that – and perhaps it’s the news that certain companies who shall remain nameless are trialling the use of delivery drones, but my mind today is on Stuff. Capitalised Stuff. The Stuff that clogs up our lives like cholesterol in a hardened artery.

Do we, if we’re being entirely truthful, need all the trumpery (a great word, which I love) that clutters up our lives?

Image: blogs.problemsolved.co.uk

Image: blogs.problemsolved.co.uk

Myself and Himself were in a shopping centre over the weekend, murdering some time. Half-jokingly, we wandered into a snooty upmarket clothing and ‘luxury’ goods retailer, just to see how long it would take for a security guard to shoot us the evil eye. Pretending to be a lot posher than I, truthfully, am, I trundled about the shop attempting to look like a serious potential purchaser. Eventually I reached the back of the premises, where all the Christmas stock was lurking.

It reminded me a bit of this. Image: theprogressiveparent.org

It reminded me a bit of this.
Image: theprogressiveparent.org

Every conceivable surface was packed with Stuff. Every corner was jammed with it. We saw novelty Santas and ‘fun’ reindeer, who looked a lot like rats if I’m being honest, dressed in Fair Isle sweaters and at least ten thousand different teapots, all with a faintly seasonal pattern. We saw candles and candle holders and tea-strainers and ever-so-jolly saucepan sets and ‘Santa Stop Here!’ accoutrements of every imaginable type. There were rolling-pins with elves on, for goodness sake. There was so much Stuff that it seemed, to me, impossible to ever buy any of it. This is because my brain, when confronted with too much choice, simply checks out and goes to my happy place, and sometimes it takes me a while to coax it back again.

What’s it all for, I asked myself. Who actually buys it?

Now, I’m not saying that I want to return to the days when people were washing their clothes by hand using cold water in a bucket and carrying candles to bed – of course I accept that there are some pieces of modern gizmo wizardry that make life much easier than any of our ancestors could have dreamed. I am immensely grateful, for instance, for the piece of machinery in front of which I am currently sitting. However, using unmanned drones to deliver parcels, instead of a perfectly intelligent person? Games consoles that respond to voice commands, in order to save the user the unbearable trouble of lifting a remote control? Smartphones with so many functions that you can barely figure out how to make a call?

Pah. I’ll be over here in the Curmudgeons’ Corner if anyone’s looking for me.

I am painfully aware of how lucky I am to live in a warm, safe home with most of the mod-cons that my peers would expect. There’s a shop across the road filled with food, and I have the means to cook it safely and quickly. Barring a disaster – or an electricity providers’ strike, which might happen here before Christmas – I am not afraid of being cold this winter. I really don’t need a rolling-pin with elves on, or a Santa-shaped teapot, or a tiny flying robot to deliver my parcels (not that I would be receiving parcels from said online retailer in the first place, but you know what I mean.) Does anyone?

It’s coming on Christmas, and they’re cutting down trees, as Joni Mitchell once sang. These days, ‘they’ are also burning oil by the ton and wasting resources producing and shipping all this useless tat to our shops, where we buy it and perpetuate the cycle. Having said this, I am all for ‘real’ retail – as opposed to online – and I am all for supporting shops and keeping people in jobs and putting money back into your local area. But surely there are better things we can buy, like books or music or theatre tickets or things that people actually need instead of aprons that play ‘Jingle Bells’ if you press a button, or musical teacups that shatter the first time you pour a hot beverage into them. Aren’t there?

This Christmas, my meagre budget will be going on small, but thoughtfully chosen, gifts for my family and a donation to charity in everyone’s name. And, early in the New Year, I’ll be going on a recycling drive to rid myself of all the nonsense I’ve managed to accumulate in my life so far.

Well, that’s the plan at least.

I know it’s hard to consume less if we’ve always been in the habit of having everything we want, the second we want it. I really think we should try, though, for everyone’s sake. There are only so many corners and cupboards and attics and garages in the world in which to cram all our Stuff – and soon, like the old lady from the movie ‘Labyrinth’, we’ll be carrying all our possessions on our backs. Maybe then we’ll see how much they weigh us down.