“No written appreciation of [Joni] Mitchell’s work has ever gotten at the depth and texture of the feelings her work provokes in me.” This is quite an audacious statement to put in print when one is offering a collection of essays that attempts to do exactly this. This statement alone from Will You Take Me As I Am rapidly telegraphs to the reader the author’s doubts about anyone’s capacity to do so.
Michelle Mercer presents here a bit of spot-on analysis that derives from cooperation in the form of face-to-face interviews with her subject. The unfortunate part is that for every bit of clarity we see concerning Mitchell’s work, it’s more than offset by ramblings taking the reader on too many tangents and rabbit trails and impertinent subjects.
The introduction starts off well, but as Will progresses, it reads like a graduate student’s paper on music, music appreciation, and even philosophy and religion (St. Augustine is often mentioned). Other musicians, such as Loudon Wainright III, are discussed for no apparent reason, and the writing wanders far off course from Joni’s Blue album creation period.
Mercer also throws in some unnecessary and blatantly offensive comments about the late and highly talented Dan Fogelberg (such as “Fogelberg’s optimism for simple lyrics… Fogelberg’s lackluster music and lyrics… I couldn’t stand any more of Fogelberg’s mellowness…”), the context of which she admits is “admittedly dangerous territory.” Shame on her.
Bottom line, Joni Mitchell is a genius musician, singer-songwriter, poet or whatever one wishes to call her. It would likely take a literary genius to translate her work into something Copland-like for the common man, woman, or reader. Three writers come to mind who might have been better equipped to handle the assignment (Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion) and Ms. Mercer does not seem to stand with them in terms of skill.
It was Capote who so bitingly observed of the Rolling Stones, “The drummer is 90 percent of the band!” He or Mailer or Sacramento’s own Didion would likely have written in just as clever and enlightening a vein about Ms. Mitchell.
If you want to actually understand Joni’s Blue, consider taking the money you would spend on this book and instead purchase the CD. It will serve you well.
Free Press, $24.99, 240 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.