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Both Sides Now: Joni Mitchell Blasts Hometown, Deep South as ‘Bigoted’ — After Wearing Blackface

She sang about Woodstock even though she wasn't there. Now Joni Mitchell is badmouthing her hometown and America.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

July 30, 2013 - 7:00 am

joni_mitchell_selfportrait
Lank-haired, hatchet-faced Canadian songstress Joni Mitchell threw a tantrum last week.

Her hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, wants to build a museum in her honor (seemingly oblivious to the irony, considering Mitchell’s quoted-to-death lyrics…)

Mitchell wants them to drop the idea:

There aren’t enough people [in Saskatoon] who know what I do. (…)

I feel that it’s very isolated, very unworldly, and doesn’t grasp the idea of honor. (…)

Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community. It’s like the deep south, and the museum was one thing I thought would be beneficial for people. (…)

People don’t get me there. They don’t get my ideas. They just look at me like I’m famous. That’s a minor part of it.

The mayor of Saskatoon responded with sanguine diplomacy to these insults.

Some Canadians, on the other hand…

joni_mitchell_blackface

Joni Mitchell, right, dressed as a black pimp at a California party, 1976. © Henry Diltz/Corbis

Saskatchewan resident Kate McMillan duly posted on this dustup at her blog SmallDeadAnimals — a post that drew a couple of… interesting comments:

“You might, like me, come to think you love Joni, not the musician but the human being, only to be terribly disappointed when you start to learn about all the racism and cultural appropriation perpetuated by her on her later albums–and in her everyday behavior, too. I mean really, Joni, REALLY?!

Weller glosses over this latter point with a “well, it was a different time…people just did that stuff”…but, no. I can not accept that “people” just [see photo above] dressed up in blackface as their “inner black person, a pimp named Claude” (while also claiming to be socially colorblind, no less! ARGH!) to go to parties and whatnot and it was totally cool. In the ’60′s–’80′s?! Maybe in the 1860′s and ’80′s. Harumph”

Then there’s this:

Lott discussed one moment in particular when Mitchell performed for Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter, the promising African-American boxer who was convicted of murder. During the performance, held at Carter’s prison, Mitchell was booed off stage because the black prisoners thought her music was a ‘whitewashed version’ of jazz and blues, he said. Out of anger, Mitchell publicly called Carter the N-word.

That was not the first time Mitchell was controversial regarding black culture, Lott said. On the cover of her 1977 album, ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter,’ Mitchell appears in blackface drag.

Lott explained that Mitchell’s fantasy of being a black man was apparent in both her music and the relationships she had with men. Having a relationship with a black man came satisfyingly close to being one, Lott said.

‘Joni thought she inhibited blackness,’ Lott said. ‘That’s why she didn’t see a problem with her wearing blackface or using the N-word.’

Here’s the thing:

I don’t have a lot of fond memories of my hometown, either.

And I share Mitchell’s (apparent) disdain for Bob Dylan and First World feminists and “free love,” which she rightly calls “a ruse for guys” to “get laid.”

I applaud her for giving her baby up for adoption when when she got pregnant at nineteen.

(Although I presume Mitchell would growl something about “having no choice.”)

(Also? Am I alone in my disappointment that the father of that child didn’t turn out to be one of Mitchell’s fellow coffeehouse performers like Neil Young or Leonard Cohen? Can you imagine the voice on that kid?)

But her idiotic “cue-the-banjos,” ,Deep South” boogieman is deplorable, although typical of the 1960s/70s era liberal she is.

Not that her take on that history is terribly sound…

In the clip below, Joni Mitchell claims she watched Woodstock on TV the weekend it went on (without her).

That’s impossible: the concert wasn’t aired live.

Such things simply didn’t happen in those days. The technology didn’t exist to broadcast such a sprawling event, the logistics would have been a few notches below “moon landing,” and frankly, the networks’ middle class viewership would’ve had no interest in such a program.

But those Baby Boomers, huh?

Always inserting themselves into history, twisting it so that they are simultaneously its victims and its stars.

(KATHY SHAIDLE is a blogging pioneer who runs FiveFeetOfFury, now in its 14th year. She's been called "one of the great virtuoso polemicists of our time," by MARK STEYN. Her NEW book is Confessions of A Failed Slut (Thought Catalog, 2014).

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
I agree with all the commenters here who wrote that one can still appreciate the genius and beauty of an artist's work without endorsing his or her odious politics or personal character.

In fact, some of the greatest music, films and other artwork of all time were created by artists whose politics and/or personal character are detestable. Joni Mitchell is hardly unusual in this regard. Think of Woody Allen or Leonard Bernstein. Creativity, rebelliousness and narcissism tend to go hand in hand.

Of course there's a sliding scale at play here. With a mediocre artist, even his middling leftist views are enough to turn me off to his music. (Bruce Springsteen comes to mind.) It's harder to dismiss an artist just based on his or her odious politics or bad character, however, if the artist is truly brilliant (and here I think of director David Cronenberg and recording artist Neil Young -- what's with these Canadians, anyway?).

Anyway, this "good art / lousy person" phenomenon is so common now that I've developed the following slogan to sum up my general attitude on the subject (which is kind of inverse of the expression "love the sinner, hate the sin"):

"Hate the artist. Love the art."

This attitude has helped me find something meaningful in more artwork than you can imagine.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah and Hitler made the trains run on time and kept the streets clean. You go right ahead and separate the good from the bad in these liberal fools and keep the money flowing in so they can keep up their absurd propaganda and their attack on the people who keep every thing running as it should..
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Someone from Saskatoon doesn't know d**k about bigotry, racism, the American South, or black people. Maybe listened to some black people singing on the radio or saw some on TV. Completely naive. Comes to America. Wants to get in with the "cool" crowd. Tries to play catch-up. Doesn't quite get it because she's a foreigner.

That picture of her in blackface? She could be the third Festrunk Brother - trying to "get down with her bad self" American-style, but not really succeeding.

She should have stuck to being Canadian, like Anne Margaret or Gordon Lightfoot. The only Canadians who understood the South seem to have been The Band - and they had Levon Helm to help them get it right.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (105)
All Comments   (105)
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They shouldn't name a freeway after her. They should name a parking lot after her. Or better yet a tree museum.

35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
One more thing, Kathy. Lott made up the story about Ruben "Hurricane" Carter. Mitchell never used the N word publicly at the prison concert. She used it privately, in a specific context, backstage at the Madison Square Garden event.The utterance had nothing to do with the prison crowd reception, and the speculation that the black inmates found Mitchell's music a "whitewashed version of jazz and blues" is on its face ridiculous. First of all, what did they think Dylan's music was? And secondly, what did they do, scream "boo, you're a whitewashed version of jazz and blues"? Lott gets much of what he says right, but he distorts a lot too, to bolster his argument.
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
P., surely you're not under the impression that this little snarkbite was intended to be anything more than a snarky frame to wrap around Michael Coren's rant?
36 weeks ago
36 weeks ago Link To Comment
Love you ks but there is not enough ammo here to hurt jm much. I prefer to celebrate her unrepentant commitment to tobacco, her disdain for feminism and her wonderful music.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oh good Lord. The lady is old, she had her day, and now she's a crank. She is as forgotten as Al Jolson.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
She checked in to the Hotel California, and now she can never leave. ;-)
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
I wonder how many people Joni Mitchell gave cancer to with her second hand smoke.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Joni Mitchell is very talented. She wrote a large volume of songs in which both the melodies and lyrics are original, exceptional, and fit together in truly interesting ways. It is not news that she is a liberal. It is also the case that most artists are 'left' in political orientation. So, to call her 'hatchet-faced' and then label her as a racist is over the top. I don't see how her political views are worthy of an article, except in the context of a would-be, all-Canadian cat fight. Thanks.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The only way I can appreciate the work of many of my favorite artists is to try to ignore their silly (and often appalling) personal politics. If they inject those politics into their art it becomes impossible to ignore and their art invariably becomes boring (i.e. the aging Bruce Springsteen). Talent is a mysterious gift that's more often than not bestowed on surprisingly unworthy souls.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Who's Joni Mitchell?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
A buck-toothed freak with an annoying singing voice.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Why hold back?

Follow Kathi Shaidle's lead and pronounce Mitchell a White Nigher (courtesy of PJM filter) Pimp who dresses in drag, who uses non-traditional tunings with her guitar, and has a voice like Al Sharpton, of James Brown fame.

Such a lack of boldness...
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
Dear "formerly:"

None of the insults you offered remotely apply to Joni Mitchell, whereas mine were right on the money. You were not very helpful, although you do have a dry sense of humor.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
The recalling of cloud illusions: "Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community. It’s like the deep south,..."

How long did Joni live in the deep south, one wonders. Or is the deep south to her Windsor, Ontario? Or is she merely the burnt out remains of a victim of librul propaganda?
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
How long did Joni live in the deep south

About as long as Neil Young did, apparently.
37 weeks ago
37 weeks ago Link To Comment
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