I have a slight cold. Nothing compared to a brain haemorrhage I know but enough to give me that pleasant convalescent feeling which minor ailments can carry with them.
As a not very well known cold cure, I have been listening to Joni Mitchell’s album Hejira again and I am convinced that it is working.
No one is cooler, more laid back or more evocative of that spirit of being alone on the road with some issues to deal with, maybe, but deep down having that delightful sense that
“There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain.”
Hejira is a Middle Eastern word for journey and the whole album was written when she was on an epic trip traveling home alone across America after a performing tour.
If you were ever seduced by Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, if you fancy yourself as a moody rolling stone – gathering no moss but just few experiences on route – or even if you just want to listen to one of the great singer-songwriters of our times, then you owe it to yourself to indulge in some personal time with this album and to find some comfort in her melancholy whether you have a cold or not.
Needless to say, it is worth it alone just to hear Neil Young’s bluesy harmonica playing on the track Furry Sings The Blues. A song where Mitchell is lamenting a favourite theme, the loss of characterful bohemian streets in favour of malls and parking lots. Neil Young just melts your heart in the way harmonicas do.
On this album Mitchell has moved on from her folk/rock roots to embrace blues and jazz and to collaborate with some great musicians, none more impressive than the great electric bassist, Jaco Pastorius whose adventurously wide ranging bass and amazing bass guitar harmonies make him an equal partner, a fellow jazz improviser to Joni Mitchell’s voice which is now maturer, richer and more risk-taking than it was on her most famous album Blue.
Was Jaco Pastorius the greatest bassist that has ever lived? Of course he was….just listen to him if you don’t believe me. It is one of those great rock ‘n roll tragedies that he not only went down that one way street to drugs and drink overload but he ended his life at the age of 35 with a careless punch from a club bouncer.
This album was newly minted for me again as I slumped on a sofa listening to it yesterday.
If you want the perfect conditions for enjoying it just take my advice:
Catch a minor head cold,
Light a log fire,
Lie on the most comfortable sofa God has yet created,
Dim the lights,
Or light some candles,
Burn some incense,
Do what else you have to do to mellow your senses
And just open your ears.
It will never fail, believe me.
My journey began all over again lying there with Joni yesterday afternoon. Back on the road again…driving on one of those unbelievably straight American freeways through an unending landscape with just your own thoughts for company.
I have been a lucky man. My work has paid me to travel solo to many interesting places and given me enough time to enjoy it, as Joni Mitchell sings, until I am “porous with travel fever.”
That enjoyable melancholy reminds me of a friend’s house at university. He was older than the rest of us, had made a few mistakes and picked up some baggage but he had learnt a bit about life’s pleasures.
He filled that tiny house with books, stacked on shelves of discarded floorboards and bricks, he had all the great albums, piled in alphabetical order of artist, he had found two abandoned sofas and covered them in Indian shawls and the walls he painted white.
To me, it was the perfect house.
It was there, in front of his wood fire, lying on a sofa with a slight cold, that I first heard the magic of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and The Band. All Canadian national treasures and all perennial performers in that great concert in my mind. There will always be that virtual fire, with the gentle crackling of old wood, whenever I listen to these folk.
They speak of days of freedom, ambition and hope but also days that never hurried, never worried too much and most certainly never knew when you’d had enough.
So welcome back Joni, you have been away too long. I hope my cold lingers for just a bit longer because there are plenty more albums where Hejira came from.