Michelle Mercer's exposition
of Joni Mitchell's Blue Period, defined as spanning the five albums Blue through Hejira, features some nice biographical details and lyrical insights. However, like the recent Wolff book
about Rupert Murdoch, the author's unprecedented access to subject yields an unfocused and bloated book.
Do we really need 3 pages about Loudon Wainwright vacillating on the curative nature of songwriting? It's tangents like these that make the reader realize this short book would have been a much more interesting long magazine article, with the appropriate editor.
There is even a blatant factual error at one point (Tin Angel is not on Joni's first album).
Joni comes off as somewhat arrogant and misguided (e.g. rationalization of her life-long smoking addiction, laughable mentions of astrological crap) but Mercer appropriately counters this and delights us with a final section about the things Joni likes, culled from her hours of interviews and other sources. As such, both author and subject are rehabilitated at the end. Joni is obviously brilliant and talented but her concomitant ego dulls the shine. She reminds me of Michael Schermer's book
, "Why People Believe Weird Things."
The most interesting revelation is a background story about the song "Court and Spark", something Larry Klein (Joni's ex-husband) divulged that Joni did not want exposed. Understandably, I think, she did not want the universal nature of the song delimited by a specific anecdote. However, now that the cat's out of the bag, the background provides an utterly fascinating view of Joni's songwriting process: the assimilation of an encounter with someone and its transformation to serve the song in an enigmatic and different way.
Finally, if one is covering the "blue period" of an artist, it follows that a clearer and more chronological review would serve the reader best. The author bounces around in time way too much, pays inordinate attention to "Blue" and virtually ignores "The Hissing of Summer Lawns".
I'd give this book a "C-" but any self-respecting Joni fan will gobble it up as I did and relish the positives over the negatives.