A couple of days ago I was a bit startled by a Variety headline for a Chris Willman interview with Marcus Mumford. It was about the recently-premiered PBS Joni Mitchell tribute concert (Gershwin Prize) that happened in February, and more particularly Mumford’s belief that Mitchell is “singing better than ever in 2023.”
It’s great that Mitchell is singing and playing guitar and sounding pretty good, particularly in the wake of having suffered a brain aneurysm in late March of 2015. She was in fairly bad shape after that tragedy, but she’s recovered (or at least is recovering) to a significant degree, and praise be to God for this.
In a 2013 interview with the National Post‘s Jian Ghomeshi Mitchell said that her soprano singing voice was pretty much kaput, and that she’s now an alto.
The key question to me is “is Joni still smoking?” Because that’s almost certainly what helped to bring about her aneurysm. She initially lost her ability to speak and walk, and still needs a little help getting around as we speak.
I was so concerned about Mitchell’s well-being in the wake of the aneurysm that I once hand-delivered an admonishing fan letter to her Spanish home in Bel Air. I insisted I was one of her biggest fans and begged her to think about vaping instead of sticking with tobacco.
Mitchell may have decided that life isn’t worth living without the pleasure of unfiltered cigarettes, but maybe not. She once said in an interview that she began smoking at age 9 or 10 or something. At a certain point the body just can’t take the nicotine and the toxins and complications will manifest.
It’s wonderful, in any event, that Mitchell has regained (or is in the process of regaining) her singing and guitar-playing abilities. She’ll turn 80 on 11.7.23.
Posted on 3.31.15: I attended a short, smallish concert that Mitchell gave at Studio 54 in October ’82 to promote “Wild Things Run Fast.” The crowd was not huge, maybe 150 or so, and I was standing fairly close and pretty much dead center. No female artist has ever touched me like Mitchell**, and I was quite excited about being this close to her.
I was beaming, starry-eyed and staring at her like the most self-abasing suck-up fan you could imagine, and during the first song her eyes locked onto mine and I swear to God we began to kind of half-stare at each other. (Some performers do this, deciding to sing for this or that special person in the crowd.) Her eyes danced around from time to time but she kept coming back to me, and I remember thinking, “Okay, she senses that I love her and she probably likes my looks so I guess I’m her special fanboy or something for the next few minutes.”
Mitchell was dressed in a white pants suit and some kind of colorful scarf, and she sang and played really well, and I remember she had a little bit of a sexy tummy thing going on. Sorry but that had a portion of my attention along with the songs and “being there” and a feeling that I’d remember this moment for decades to come.
** My beloved Patti Smith ranks a close second.