Loving and Trying to Love Joni

I was listening to “Radio Deluxe,” the charming jazz show of John Pizzarelli and his wife Jessica Molaskey; and they played the later version Joni did of “Both Sides Now,” which has been bowling me over ever since I first heard it.

It’s probably not to everyone’s taste – bordering on grandiose, not hard to mock, a bit Barbara-Streisandish (though I like Streisand too!) – but it bowls me and a million others over (it was one of the main songs at the last Winter Olympics).

And yet I have to say that I’m always trying to like more Joni Mitchell than I do.

One of the albums that’s engraved on my heart is Blue, especially “River,” “The Last Time I Saw Richard,” “This Flight Tonight,” “California,” “A Case of You,”

and all the rest for that matter. It was one of the few albums my parents had; and I used to play it over and over – and still do, when I’m in that mood. Wasn’t Blood on the Tracks (“Tangled Up in Blue”!) written after a long period of Dylan’s immersion in Blue?

But I’ve had a hard time loving other things Joni’s done, despite the fact that I feel like I ought to. Her voice is always spectacular, able to flow effortlessly from soprano to baritone to soprano again. She is capable of writing good lyrics (“The Last Time I Saw Richard” is brilliant), like in “Amelia”: “I spotted six jet plains/ Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain:/ It was the hexagram of the heavens . . .” Hexagram of the heavens is very nice. She also loves jazz, and jazz loves her. She did an album called Mingus with – Mingus! She regularly works with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. She’s independent.

But most of her non-Blue songs, even her most renowned, leave me cold – or at least, don’t do much for me. The pre-Blue stuff tends to be too precious, a little too folky. The post-Blue stuff tends to be too jazzy. (Why is the word “jazz” so good, and the word “jazzy” so bad?)

Usually I have no problem not liking what I don’t like. But, as much as I love Blue, I’m bothered by not liking Joni better than I do.

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