Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell by Katherine Novak (Greystone, $21.00, 298 pages)
Joni Mitchell, a self-described woman of heart and mind, never shows up within the pages of Joni. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Katherine Monk never had the opportunity to interact with Ms. Mitchell, leaving her unable to shed light on the human being. Second, Monk sought to create a quasi-academic treatise on the subject of Philosophy and Religion and the Music of Joni Mitchell. Frankly, it’s simply not that interesting even if one was (like this reader) a Philosophy and Religion major in college.
No, this is not another fan’s tribute to Joni; instead, it’s a somewhat overwrought collection of essays that seeks to find the meaning of Mitchell’s music via the words of Nietzsche and other philosophers. This is painful enough, but just when one hopes that she won’t throw religious figures into the analytical mix, she proceeds to discuss St. Augustine and revisit the biblical Story of Job. In the end – in the words of Bob Dylan, nothing is revealed.
Mitchell herself once said that writing about music is like trying to dance to architecture. Picking up a copy of Joni’s Blue or For the Roses album is much preferable to attempting this strange dance. Very much preferable.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music and the Holy Ghost by Matthew Paul Turner
Some people like inside baseball books. Some like inside politics books. This is an inside religion book which starts off as being very entertaining before it bogs down…
Initially, Hear No Evil reminded me of Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost (October 2009); Richard Rushfield’s truly hilarious tale of his wild and wooly days at the ultra-liberal arts Hampshire College in the 1980s. Don’t Follow Me was reviewed earlier on this site and while it started off a bit too agressively, it calmed down and simply remained funny until its final page.
Unfortunately, once this reader was more than halfway through Hear No Evil it began to remind me of Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield. Sheffield’s real story had to do with his attempt to woo the love of his life via the compilation of just the right music on cassette tapes. It was cute while it lasted, but it all too soon veered sideways with too much talk of peripheral figures. I loved it before I became bored with it. Yes, Hear No Evil is a bit like that.
This one starts off funny as Turner tells us about his desire to be “the Michael Jackson of Christian music.” And there are some great observations in it – if not necessarily true ones – such as the statement that rock bass players have the emotional maturity of fourth-grade girls. But there’s just not enough here about music. Instead we hear talks about The One True God, God’s sovereignty, Calvinism, etc. Turner himself becomes disenchanted with all of this, “I turned into the punk know-it-all son with a religious ax to grind.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there and done that. My second major in college was in Philosophy and Religion, so I once enjoyed rambling discussions about the wisdom of St. Augustine versus one’s favorite existentialist. But I never thought it would be interesting to write a book about those youthful conversations.
For me, Turner’s latest effort is a miss rather than a hit.
A review copy was provided by WaterBrook Multnomah (WaterBook Press), a division of Random House Books.