Experiencing Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ in the age of streaming
Maggie Clark | Wednesday, February 9, 2022
Last week, folk singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell said “[she stands] with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities” in her decision to remove her music from Spotify. This decision came after a particularly controversial episode of the “Joe Rogan Experience” was released on Spotify. In an open letter published on Mitchell’s website, various medical professionals and members of the scientific community requested the removal of a podcast episode that featured COVID-19 “misinformation.” “By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions,” the letter states, “Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals.”
Many fans of Mitchell, including me, were disappointed to learn that they would no longer be able to listen to her discography on Spotify. However, the fact that her decision was received with such sadness by fans and critics alike only proves Mitchell’s lasting relevance in the music industry. Mitchell’s seemingly endless collection of critically-acclaimed releases includes her most famous album, “Blue.” Despite being released over 50 years ago, the album remains not only popular, but also timeless. In the wake of Mitchell’s decision and due to this timelessness, I decided to revisit “Blue.” Since I could not listen to the album on Spotify, I had to listen to it in its original format: a vinyl record.
I have always appreciated being able to own and listen to music in its physical form. With the convenience of streaming, however, I typically listen to random songs on shuffle, rather than to an album in its entirety and in its original order. I found that after experiencing “Blue” in vinyl, I was better able to fully understand the story Mitchell was telling. Ultimately, I believe “Blue” describes Mitchell’s yearning and searching for a sense of belonging; because of this theme, “Blue” actually begs to be listened to in its fullness and in order. I think it would be impossible to fully understand Mitchell’s true feelings — or the true themes of her work — without listening to the album in this format.
The idea of belonging stretches across the entirety of “Blue.” Over the course of the album, Mitchell demonstrates that this belonging can come from a place, a person or oneself. In the song “California,” for example, Mitchell mourns her increased distance from the Golden State while she travels all over the world. In addition to this homesickness, she also questions whether she would lose her sense of belonging upon her return, saying “California, I’m coming home / Will you take me as I am?” Through the song’s lyrics, Mitchell perfectly encapsulates the combination of being homesick and wondering if the place where you used to belong will accept the person you have become away from it.
In “A Case of You,” Mitchell similarly explores the dichotomy of belonging. In this song, however, this dichotomy exists in a person, rather than of a place. She sings, “oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine / You taste so bitter and so sweet / Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling / Still I’d be on my feet.” These lyrics demonstrate a complex emotional state. Mitchell feels as if she has found belonging in a loved one who, at the same time, is not necessarily good for her; because of this, she feels that she must be “prepared to bleed.”
All in all, I think that it is due to such continuous themes that Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece resonates so deeply with listeners. This connection is only really possible if one experiences of “Blue” as a whole — an experience that can be prevented by the convenience and expanse of streaming. It is through this unity that Joni Mitchell expertly scrutinizes the idea of belonging for herself. In doing so, and by means of intensely creative imagery, she helps listeners to feel a similar sense of belonging. Ultimately, her relatable, memorable and intimate songs become “like tattoos” for those who experience them.