So Hard to Handle

John Lahr

  • Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe
    Farrar, Straus, 420 pp, £20.00, October 2017, ISBN 978 0 374 24813 0

With her high cheekbones and her flaxen hair, Joni Mitchell emerged in the late 1960s as some kind of hippy Venus with an overbite. She was the personification of the New Woman, liberated by the pill and by her talent to take ownership of her body, her art and her destiny. She was thoughtful, feisty, free-wheeling, ‘open to experience and in touch with the miraculous’, as she put it. Her precocious songs chronicled the complexity of her newly claimed agency; they meditated on liberty and longing, love and lust, independence and loneliness. ‘I’m a living storybook,’ she said of her autobiographical catalogue. In her thrilling falsetto Mitchell told of ‘love’s illusion’ before we knew quite what either love or disillusion was. Her songs calmed the mind of a turbulent, panic-struck society. ‘Before Prozac, there was you,’ two teenage fans once told her.

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