Joni Mitchell Biography - 1980 to 2007


Page 484 - Joni Mitchell anger, aging and sliding sales

Joni Mitchell came into middle age with Larry Klein by her side.  During their nine years of marriage, Joni's career, already derailed during her jazz experimentation, went deeper into a trough by way of her collaborations with her young husband.  There are some that believe Klein's synthesizer-heavy, drum-machine-based music hurt her career.  Others believe that, Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein 1984however off-mark their musical collaborations, Larry patiently absorbed and managed the anger that Joni increasingly felt.  "Getting older was hard for Joni," says Larry.  She saw an injustice. "Men around that age" - Jagger, McCartney, Clapton - "are still considered vital in pop music, but women aren't."

The first album of her songs that they produced together - her fourteenth album, 1985's Dog Eat Dog - was political in spirit.  Having her romantic life settled gave Joni the luxury of thinking about politics, she has said.  Dog Eat Dog was poorly reviewed and her poorest-selling album in eighteen years.  And though her next album, 1988's smoother and more listenable Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, was enthusiastically received (Billboard's Timothy White called it "lucid" and "sublimely sung") and sold better (reaching a respectable # 45), it didn't touch the luster of her early albums, nor did the songs have that personal ache.

Her 1991 Night Ride Home, whose title song honored Larry ("I love the man beside me, we love the open road"), was, as Stephen Holden said, "closer in spirit to her 1970's albums"; still it did about the same business as its predecessor.  During these and subsequent years Joni Mitchell bewailed what she called her banishment from the airwaves, spoke of her disdain for MTV, and tendered the opinion that she been "blacklisted" from Rolling Stone because she had once thrown a drink in Jann Wenner's face and told him to "kiss my ass."

Page 487 - Joni Mitchell and Larry Klein divorce

Joni Mitchell 1991At some point in her early forties, Joni Mitchell discovered she was pregnant - a surprise, since she had assumed that the infection she'd suffered in Jamaica had left her infertile.  She would later tell a friend that "she wanted the baby, badly."  Larry was excited to be a father.  In her first trimester, Joni miscarried.

Larry had a recording date in England; musicians were waiting for him.  He delayed his departure, then he asked Joni if it was okay for him to go and fulfill his commitment.  She consented.  In an act more naive than callous, but with a devastating effect on Joni, he did leave. "In retrospect, it was really a bad thing," he says today.  "I didn't know very much about what happens to women when they miscarry - the potential psychological problems, the depression.  Knowing what I know now, I wouldn't have gone.  It really damaged our relationship; she saw it as me putting this job higher in importance than her health." 

On Thanksgiving 1991, Joni and Larry's marriage fell apart.  Larry moved to a house in Venice and "spent five years - probably the most difficult period of my life - completely reconstructing myself," Larry recalls.  As Dave Naylor, who remained close to both Larry and Joni, puts it, "It wasn't just the miscarriage" that marked the end of the marriage for Joni.  "She needed some inspiration, some play - she needed some interaction with men."


Page 491 - Joni Mitchell's Turbulent Indigo

By now, Joni Mitchell's patch of being ignored had ended.  Her 1994 Turbulent Indigo - the startingly husky voice refracting her tart, mature complexity - was touted as one of her finest albums in years.  (Tim White, now the editor of Billboard, called it "one of the most commanding statements of a peerless, seventeen-album career" and praised its "rare Joni Mitchell paintingblend of romantic faith and fervid realism.")  Joni used a self-portrait depicting herself as her hero Vincent Van Gogh as the cover.  Her characters had ripped to a noir sheen.  Long-brewed hurts make their way into the album; Not To Blame excoriates Jackson Browne, but nobody knows why; and, in the album's most transcendent piece - and one of Joni's finest songs ever - the cruelty and humiliation she suffered as an unwed mother in transmuted into a searing imaging of life in an historically real Irish home for fallen women called the Magdalene Laundries.

By now, Joni's having given up a baby was a whisper of a rumor bobbing under the surface of public acknowledgment.  For years Joni had kept the possibility of the search for her baby in a kind of locked box.  She still had not told her parents, and with every year the secret seemed more trouble to uncover.  Joni was unaware that up in Canada, her daughter, Kilauren Gibb, had been searching for her birth mother since 1991 - the year that Kilauren's parents had finally confessed that she wasn't their natural child; she had been adopted at seven months old. 


Page 492 - Joni Mitchell awards flooding in

Joni Mitchell - Billboard Century Award1996 was an affirming year for Joni Mitchell.  Late-in-coming awards started flooding in all at once:  Turbulent Indigowas the surprise winner of Best Pop Album Grammy and she won Billboard's newly instituted and very prestigious Century Award.  In addition, Stephen Holden publicly criticized the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "anti-feminine" bias for their failure to honor Joni (she was inducted the next year, as well as into the Songwriters Hall of Fame); the National Academy of Songwriters and the National Songwriters Association each awarded her a Lifetime Achievement Award; BMI gave her their one-million-performance certificate for Big Yellow Taxi and Woodstock, their two-million-performance certificate for Both Sides Now; and she won Canada's prestigious Governor General's Award.  There were perks to being fifty-three years old.

In addition, her personal life had come satisfyingly full circle.  She was now in a relationship with Canadian poet Donald Freed, who traveled around Canada's remote areas, teaching children to turn their lives into poetry.  Joni wrote a song with an explicitly midlife-female title, Face Life, about Freed.  Like many women her age, who'd by now hacked at the quandary of love vs. freedom from a dozen different angles, Joni found the long-distance relationship a good solution.  When the now happily married John Guerin asked, "But, Joan, isn't that guy in Canada all the time?" she answered, "Yes, but it's better that way. I see him when it's cool."


Page 494 - Joni Mitchell finds her daughter Kilauren Gibb

Joni Mitchell with daughter Kilauren Gibb By the end of 1997, Joni Mitchell announced that she was searching for her daughter.  Joni's Vancouver-based managers handled theresponses; hundreds of thirty-one-year-old adopted women wanted to be Joni Mitchell's baby.  Knowing that she was the one (see the book for the amazing back-story), Kilauren contacted and recontacted Joni's managers, calling or e-mailing almost every day.  Finally, the Gibbses located a long-buried photograph of Kilauren in their arms, taken the day she left her foster mother.  In early March of 1997, Kilauren sent this photo to Macklam and Feldman; they matched it against the ones Joni had been sent one year earlier by the foster mother.  To Joni's protectively skeptical managers, there could no doubt now.

Kilauren and Marlin (her son) flew, with first-class tickets from Joni, from Toronto to L.A.  They were met by a limousine and driven to Joni's house.  Joni raced downstairs and opened the door.  And, as she would later write it, in her abashed, eloquently measured song, Stay In Touch,  about the occasion: "In the middle of this continent, in the middle of our time on Earth, we receive one another."  Here was her Kelly Dale - here was her Little Green - thirty-two years later.

Since that time, Joni Mitchell and Kilauren Gibb have made their way through a thicket of complicated emotions to arrive at a relationship that feels like real life.  Joni visits her daughter and grandchildren in Toronto; they visit her at her houses in L.A. and near Vancouver. 


Page 497 - Joni Mitchell isn't backing down

Joni Mitchell - Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame 2007Joni's nineteenth album, 2000's Both Sides, Now, and her twentieth - 2002's double-disc Travelogue - both feature her singing her songs in her new, life-deepened voice.

In 2003, Joni was the subject of a PBS American Masters tribute - biography, Woman of Heart and Mind.  James Taylor was among the participants honoring Joni in word and song.  She unappeasedly continued to call the recording industry a "cesspool," railing, of the pop landscape: "What [should] I do now?  Show my  tits? Grab my crotch?  Get hair extensions and a choreographer?"  Danny Kortchmar puts the complaint thusly, referring to rap music, "Today, people write love songs to their jewelry."

Joni has essentially asked, thought-provokingly: Do we destroy the female artists among us?  She concedes that since so many people have said her early work was her best, maybe it was time to believe it herself. 

Joni spent the summer of 2007 recording her twenty-first album, Shine, a bravura effort of electric music, every track [of course] produced by Joni, who supplied virtually all of the instrumentation.  James Taylor added his guitar to the title song.  She dedicated it to her grandchildren, Marlin and Daisy.  It was released, on Starbuck's Hear label, in late September 2007.  Joni was reportedly annoyed that her proposed cover - the arched backs and bulbously muscled thighs of leaping male dancers - was not thought to be the best signifier for a Joni Mitchell album cover.  But there those muscled buttocks were, on the cover.  Starbucks surely learned what everyone knows: She is Joni Mitchell and she isn't backing down.


Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation was published in April 2008.