When I was 16, I would occasionally sneak out of my room at night and rendezvous with my friends in a nearby park. We would often bring vodka stolen from our parents’ liquor cabinets. We would get drunk and run through the sprinklers and listen to cassettes on battery-powered boom boxes. One drunken night, I kissed two guys and lost my glasses in the grass. The soundtrack that night was Joni Mitchell’s album Blue.
My favourite song on the album is ‘Little Green’. The lyrics, melodies and guitar parts are the stuff of genius. I love the rhymes and half rhymes: “Cancer / answer to / dancer”, and “California / warmer there / non-conformer.” I didn’t know the story behind the lyrics at the time but I may have intuited their meanings: Joni had birthed a daughter when she was young and poor and made the difficult decision to put her up for adoption. ‘Little Green’ is the name of her daughter in the song.
It is a difficult thing to capture deep sadness and melancholy in a song. It’s easy to make things too personal, sappy or overly- sentimental. Joni manages to include striking details in her songs while also capturing universal feelings of loss, joy and transcendence. Her songs seem effortless. Though later in my punk 20s I wrote her off as too ‘so ’, I’m grateful Joni was an early influence. I’m sure that her sparse arrangements, melodic meanderings and cut-to-the-chase song structures still inform my songwriting.
The night I lost my glasses I managed to sneak back into my room without waking my parents. In the morning I woke in a panic. How would I explain my missing (and expensive) glasses? I raced back to the park to look for them in the dim early morning light. I scoured the place but couldn’t find them. Just as I was giving up and heading home (and making up elaborate lies) I saw them glinting in the grass. I picked them up out of a little patch of green, dried off their dew and breathed a sigh of relief. I trotted back to a quiet house humming ‘Little Green’ along the way.