Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Beat of Black Wings

Today the Reds welcome Edith and friends to celebrate the amazing music of Joni Mitchell!

EDITH MAXWELL: Thank you, Lucy/Roberta, for helping us celebrate this week’s release of The Beat of Black Wings! We had hoped to have a grand release at Malice Domestic. Since that isn’t going to happen in a few weeks, it’s great to have an audience here to share it with.
This anthology of short crime fiction is a celebration itself – a bow to the genius and wonder that is Joni Mitchell and her music. Each story in the collection is inspired by a different song spanning her seventeen albums. The anthology was Josh Pachter’s idea and baby, and it hangs together beautifully because of his expert editing. 
Last year sometime I posted Youtube link to a Joni Mitchell song on my Facbook page. I talked about what a strong influence she’d had on my life. Josh saw my post and wrote to me, saying he was assembling this collection. He asked if I’d like to submit a story. Of course! I wrote back to tell him Joni’s music was the soundtrack of my young adulthood. 
I ended up writing a story inspired by “Blue Motel Room” from the Hejira album, which is one of my favorites of Joni’s albums. “A depressing blue Savannah motel room. A desiccated hand in a locked safe. A petty thief with the blues . . . and wanderlust.” But I could have selected any of dozens of others of Mitchell songs and picked out a tale.
I asked Josh about his inspiration to create the anthology.
Josh Pachter: For as long as I can remember, my favorite music has included the work of singer/songwriters. Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, David Bromberg, Carole King, Marc Cohn, Van Morrison, Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Cheryl Wheeler, Kenny White, many more — their work has provided the soundtrack for my life. A couple of years ago — for an oddball reason I've explained elsewhere — I wrote a story based on Joni's song "The Beat of Black Wings." Right around the same time, I became aware of the publication of several books of short crime stories based on song lyrics, such as Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen, and I thought: Why not do something similar with Joni's songs? The result was The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell.
Edith: I asked Josh and a few of the other authors which of Joni’s songs resonated with them at a particular time. Here’s what they said:
Josh Pachter: I'm going to pick a song that's in The Beat of Black Wings, though the story was written by the great Brendan DuBois, not by me: "Free Man in Paris." The Court and Spark album came out in 1974, just as I was entering grad school at the University of Michigan and simultaneously beginning my first teaching job, a half-time position at Ann Arbor's Community High School. Joni's lyrics — "I was a free man in Paris / I felt unfettered and alive / There was nobody calling me up for favors / No one's future to decide" — reminded me how much I'd enjoyed my first trip to Europe, two years earlier, and made me hunger to return. Two years later, in '76, I finished my graduate coursework, quit my job, and took off to visit friends in Amsterdam. I bought a motorcycle and met a Dutch woman and spent eight months tooling around Italy and Greece with her. By the end of '77, we were married, and I didn't return to the US to live until 1991. We were divorced by then. I'm happily remarried now, to an American woman, and Laurie and I go back to Europe almost every summer, where we feel unfettered and alive. Sadly, it looks like this year's trip to Spain and Portugal will have to be delayed. But with The Beat of Black Wings coming out, we'll spend the summer immersed in Joni's music, if not in sangria and tapas....
Barb Goffman: The holiday season, from the lead-up to Thanksgiving all the way through New Years, often is hard for me. All the celebrations of family and love remind me that despite the many good things in my life, in a fundamental way, I'm alone. Sure, I have wonderful friends and my dog. But I've never been married. Haven't had a boyfriend in decades. No children. In December I often will listen to "River," both Joni Mitchell's version and the wonderful cover by Robert Downey Jr. The song doesn't make me feel better exactly, but it's comforting all the same.
Sherry Harris: I confess that I didn't listen to a lot of Joni Mitchell music when I was young. I was always more of a fan of rock and roll than folk singers. Of course I knew her biggest hits like “Both Sides, Now” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” But as I went through her songs to pick one for the anthology, it struck me how timeless her lyrics are and what an incredible musician and storyteller she is. Being re-introduced to her music has been so interesting.
Alison McMahan: It would have to be “Both Sides Now.” I knew the Judy Collins version from the Wildflowers album. I grew up an expatriate in Spain. In the early 70s, TV and even radio were limited, so LPs were our lifeline to North American culture. In 1974, when I was a teenager, “Both Sides Now” seem to sum up the angst of being an American teenager growing up in a fascist dictatorship. It was a great day for me when, many years later, I got to see Judy Collins live. I was an adult before I found out Joni Mitchell had written the song. (Remember, we didn't have internet). That led me to discover Joni Mitchell's other work. But that was much later, when I was back living in the US. To me the song summed up the tightrope walk I had to do, to be an American and believe in democracy and at the same time grow up in Franco's dictatorship.
Alan Orloff: When I was a poor college student, I would go to garages sales and swap meets to buy vinyl records on the cheap. So I got a copy of Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon, and I remember listening to that album, quite frequently, as a backdrop when I studied. I think I drove my roommates crazy with how often I listened to it (but it had some of her greatest hits on one album!). I went on to buy more of her albums, of course, but I think that one stands out as my favorite--or at least the most memorable in my mind.
Art Taylor: The first Joni Mitchell song I ever remember hearing was “Help Me”—junior year of college, sitting in my friend Mary Ruffin Hanbury’s room, sunlight pouring through open windows, a sudden burst of springtime and us eating triscuits and cream cheese. Even in the moment, college felt like a time of general romanticism about the world, rampant emotions in a hundred directions and a giddy and exciting helplessness to those emotions—and “didn’t it feel good?” (to quote the song’s lyrics). 

Years later, though, another of Joni Mitchell’s songs stood out: “Coyote” with that lyric about two lovers who "just come from such different sets of circumstance.” The relationship I was in at that time was troubled, doomed really, even as it felt very exciting in the moment—and something definitely resonated with me about the forward-moving motion of that song, along with lyrics which were both keen-eyed and accepting.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been tinkering with a story, potentially a series of stories, about a young woman who so loves Joni Mitchell that bits of lyrics keep popping into conversation—words of wisdom that have fashioned this character’s outlook on the world. All this talk reminds me I need to get back to it. 

Edith: (Art apologizes for going so long – but I loved his whole answer!) 
For me – a Californian – all of Joni’s early songs resonated. During college and after, I was hungry for adventure, love, and travel. After I started traveling, of course “California” pulled at my heartstrings, but “Carey” also called me to hedonism on a Greek island. “I was a Free Man in Paris” drew me, too. When my American boyfriend and I lived in Japan in the mid-seventies, we had cassette tapes of Hejira and Hissing of Summer Lawns. “Amelia, “Refuge of the Roads,” “Coyote,” and of course “Edith and the Kingpin” – so many songs gifted me with deeply etched memories.
We all hope you find a copy of The Beat of Black Wings. Please know 30 percent of the proceeds go toward brain aneurysm research. While they won’t benefit Joni directly, we hope your contributions further the understanding of the medical event that struck our favorite singer/songwriter. And think of all the intriguing stories you’ll have to distract you from the outside world!
Readers: What’s your favorite Joni Mitchell song, and why? If Joni’s music isn’t yours, who is your favorite female singer/songwriter? Edith will send one of you an ebook of the anthology.
Josh Pachter is a writer, editor and translator. Almost a hundred of his short crime stories have appeared in EQMMAHMM, and many other periodicals, anthologies, and year’s-best collections. Please find him at joshpachter.com.
Edith Maxwell, also known as Maddie Day, writes cozy and historical mysteries as well as award-winning short crime fiction. She hopes you’ll find her under both names on social media and at edithmaxwell.com.

70 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your anthology . . . what an interesting concept. I’m looking forward to reading the stories.

    I loved [still do] the wonderful “Both Sides Now” . . . .

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    1. I love that one, too, Joan. You must read the story in the collection: written in an innovative way by Art Taylor and his wife, Tara Laskowski!.

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  2. Although Joni Mitchell is Canadian and spent her early years singing in Yorkville (Toronto) coffee houses in the early 1960s, she was pretty much unknown to me since this was before I was born. "River" was a cover song often played by my favourite bands but I did not know it was one of Joni's songs until much later.

    Yes, there have been several crime story anthologies based on songs, and this is a great idea.
    Thank you for donating part of your proceeds to brain aneurysm research. This resonates with me since my mother died suddenly from a brain aneurysm at the age of 66 in 2003. It is good to know that research has progressed enough to save people, including Joni, from this medical affliction.

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    1. I also love "River," Grace. The story by Stacy Woodson is amazing.

      I'm sorry to hear about your mother. And acquaintance died of the same, in her forties. We're glad to help out the research in some small way.

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    2. Grace, so sorry about your mother--she was so young!

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    3. Thank you Grace for writing about her origins. Her name and songs doesn't resonate in my mind , I'll have to check on YouTube about those songs.
      My mother also died of brain aneurysm at 42 in 1973.

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    4. Danielle, I don't know if you can find any of them singing on Youtube. But can you imagine having Joni, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, Ian and Sylvia Tyson and Murray McLaughlin all singing together in their early years before many of them left to seek fame and fortune in the USA?

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    5. You can find many Joni Mitchell songs on YouTube, for sure, with videos of her performing. And I hope you do.

      Danielle, I'm so sorry about your mother. It appears this malady is way more widespread than I had known.

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  3. Thanks for your story, Edith, and for this lovely compilation of memories by many of the contributors. One correction: the Brain Aneurysm Foundation will receive a third of all royalties generated by sales of the book!

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    1. Oops, thanks! (That's why I work with words, not numbers...) I've been reading through all the stories and listening to the song that goes with each. What a collection you put together!

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    2. A third of all royalties equals 33%.

      My brilliant cousin died in his twenties of a brain aneurysm.

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    3. My original error, Libby. I'm so sorry about your cousin.

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  4. Such a good idea! Joni Mitchell's songs are so evocative and inspirational. My favorite would have to be Chelsea Morning. (Am I nuts, it reminds me of Dylan Thomas's A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES with its lush description.)

    Congratulations, Josh! And isn't this just the perfect time for short fiction? Sounds like you've assembled a brilliant roster.

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  5. “Both SidesNow” has been something of an anthem for me. When I was 15, I won a local talent contest singing it, winning $50, which helped me pay for my ticket to visit Slovenia that summer. I listened to it/sang it a lot years later going through a divorce. It speaks to me whenever I reflect on life. The anthology is marvelous. Edith, I started with your story. Usually, I just sit down and read from the beginning to the end, but in this time of quarantine, I’m rationing. Josh, phenomenal compendium!!!

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    1. Wow - thanks! Isn't it amazing how songs can touch us?

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  6. Maybe I'm just too old but I don't have a favorite Joni Mitchell song. Before I read this blog today I don't think I could even name one of her songs. I could do better with Judy Collins, but just barely. Growing up it was rock and roll and then the Beatles and all the others from the British Invasion. It was after college and when my children were still very young that I went into my Gordon Lightfoot phase and never came out of it;listened to a few of his albums yesterday.

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    1. Love Gordon Lightfoot, too...another Canadian singing legend still performing. Had a few health scares but still performing at 81 (or 82)?

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  7. Here's a bonus for anyone who subscribes to Apple Music: a soundtrack album of the 26 songs featured in The Beat of Black Wings, in the same order the stories appear in the book:
    https://music.apple.com/us/playlist/the-beat-of-black-wings/pl.u-6arZsK9E6W

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  8. Oh Josh, that soundtrack sounds like a gift! I do love Joni Mitchell, and the idea of basing stories on her songs is mind-blowing! Let me join the crowd by saying that Both Sides Now is probably my favorite although the Free Man in Paris lyric is so...gee, words fail me. But, they never failed her and that is why her music is indelible.
    Edith, I think I'll need to hold this book and turn the pages. A good short story is a wonderful escape and we all need that right now.
    My mother died the day after Christmas in 1965 of a brain aneurism. She said good night to me and in the morning she was gone. She was 46, I was 18. Life changes after that and song lyrics become more profound to young ears.
    It's lovely that sales of this book will support research into this devastating medical phenomenon.
    Thanks.
    Stay safe and well everyone.

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    1. I hear you, Judy. I'm sorry about your mom - it must have been so hard to lose her at that age.

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    2. Oh, Judy, I'm so sorry about your mom. What a tragedy.

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  9. To Judy and danielle-momo and Grace, I know how hard it is to lose your mother, but a brain aneurysm? So quick--no chance even to say good-bye.

    Turbulent Indigo is my pick. The whole album. I'd just gotten a copy and loaned it to one of my dearest friends, who was dying from AIDS. Sex Kills was so ironic under the circumstances. But The Magdalene Laundries, How Do You Stop, Not To Blame, just such powerful powerful songs. I didn't think I'd be able to listen to those songs again after my friend died, but I found it comforting instead--he loved that music. And I could still share in that sense of comfort he took and love.

    Edith, the anthology is irresistible--and Josh, well, I'll be finding that soundtrack, too!

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    1. Forgot to say how much I like that cover!

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    2. Thank you, Flora. Yes, her sudden death was devastating to me...she was my best friend and champion, and I definitely made changes to my own life following her passing.

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    3. That's a powerful album, Flora. I'm glad it brought you comfort.

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    4. Thank you, Flora and Edith. It was so long ago. But your life changes dramatically when you loose such an important person when you are young.
      Grace, it is incredibly sad, but I believe with all my heart that it is better to look back at your relationship with your mother with so much love.

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  10. As mentioned on the Wicked Authors blog already, I'm definitely getting this book since there's an Edith Maxwell story.

    After I read the blog post over there, I found myself reading an issue of Classic Rock (a British music magazine) and they had an article on the 50th anniversary of the Joni Mitchell album Ladies of the Canyon. Which made for interesting reading symmetry with the blog article.

    Now, I'm not going to pretend that I'm a fan of Joni Mitchell's music. I've heard a couple of the better known songs and they are good no doubt but she's just not an artist I ever spent much time getting to know through their work. Probably my loss but still.

    If you've seen my Facebook page, my profile picture is one with me and heavy metal singer Doro Pesch who I've been a fan of for over 30 years. She's one of my favorites for sure. And I loved Leather Leone for just about as long even going so far as getting to interview her a couple years back, one of the big highlights of my life too.

    But you said singer/songwriter which is a different genre than rock star so who do I like in that category?

    Well, two women whose work I love a lot is Melissa Etheridge and Maria McKee. Etheridge is pretty well known and I've seen her a number of times in concert. However, my fandom has faded a bit from the early days. Still, her first four albums are simply marvelous.

    As for Maria McKee, she started out in Lone Justice, an alt-country band in the early 80's. Her solo career is where I first discovered her with her self-titled debut album which drew me in with its beautifully enthralling portrait cover art and then the music blew me away. I've maintained my fandom over the years but I stopped following her on Twitter after she made a couple of anti-police tweets which is a big issue with me. Still...her music is just WOW! In fact, just last week I wrote one of my Cassette Chronicle articles on her solo debut album. Should anyone be interested: https://limelightmagazine.com/2020/04/02/cassettechronicles128mariamckee/

    But if I am to pick my all-time favorite female singer/songwriter, then there's no doubt that for me it is Beth Hart. From the first time I ever "discovered" her (as she sang on the roof of a van outside of Fenway Park) to 2017 when I witnessed her in an official concert for the first time, Beth Hart's music has been something that while deeply personal to her own self, has somehow always managed to cut through the cold dead barriers surrounding what turns out to be the heart I didn't think I had anymore. Seeing her in the concert is probably the closest thing I'll ever have to a moment of transcendence. She sang "Sky Full of Clover" that night, a song she rarely performs live and it happens to be one of my personal favorites. It was exhilaration in its purest form which I wrote about here in my review "A Night At The Wilbur - Beth Hart Live In Concert" - https://classic-rock-bottom.ning.com/forum/topics/a-night-at-the-wilbur-beth-hart-live-in-concert

    When people ask what Beth sounds like, I take the shortcut of saying "Imagine Janis Joplin, if she'd survived all the drugs". But Beth is far more than to me and that is why she's definitely my favorite singer/songwriter.

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    1. Thanks Jay. I haven't heard of Maria or Beth. I loved Janis Joplin, and will check Beth out.

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    2. I love Maria McKee’s early work, especially with Lone Justice!

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  11. So fabulous! And impossible to pick my favorite Joni Mitchell, simply impossible! But I do love Carey— The wind is in from Africa, last night I couldn’t sleep... Let’s go down to the mermaid cafĂ© and I will buy you a bottle of wine, and we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and smash our empty glasses down.

    So many wonderful ones, it is so touching to think about them! Brilliant idea, Josh, you know I always loved it. Cannot wait to read this!

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    1. I LOVE Carey, Hank. Just picture it...

      Agree about Josh's brilliance.

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  12. I'm delighted to have had a story included in this anthology. Thank you to everybody who read the blog today and those who have shared your stories in the column and in these comments about the songs that have touched you, as well as the sad medical events in your families. It really is so wonderful that proceeds from the royalties will be going to help research and hopefully find a way to prevent brain aneurysms.

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    1. It was brilliant of Josh to offer that donation, Barb. Your story is pretty brilliant, too!

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  13. This anthology is a brilliant idea. I’ll be getting this and also looking for Trouble in the Heartland, which I somehow missed hearing about until now.

    Joni Mitchell is one of my favorite singer songwriters. The Hissing of Summer Lawns came out my senior year of high school and I played it over and over. It made me feel so sophisticated and eager to get out into the world! In France They Kiss on Main Street” was/is one of my favorites: “In France they kiss on Main Street, amour mama, not cheap display” said so much in so few words.

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    1. I love In France They Kiss on Main Street, Cindy! The whole album, really.

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  14. When I was growing up, one of my older sisters had Court and Spark and listened to it all of the time - many great songs, but my favorite was her very quirky song "Twisted." The Anthology is a brilliant idea, and I look forward to reading it. I also appreciate your donating a portion of the proceeds toward brain aneurysm research as I lost a friend from a brain aneurysm who was only in her mid thirties and was a wife and a mother of 3 young children. It's a devastating occurrance.

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    1. Devastating, indeed. Today the stories are coming out of the woodwork.

      I adore Court and Spark, Celia, including Twisted.

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  15. Thanks to this post, I discovered Joni Mitchell. Just listened to a couple of the songs that inspired some of the short stories and it makes me want to read them even if I'm not usually a big fan of short stories.
    Having been brought up in French, I didn't listened to a lot of music in English when I was young and I don't know most of the names mentioned.
    I'm grateful for the donation but I'm also surprised that at least three of us so far were, at some point impacted by this brain aneurysm.

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    1. I'm glad you discovered Joni through us. I'm also surprised, and I think it's now up to four.

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  16. My big errors today: Alison McMahan's name is spelled wrong in the post, and I apologize. Also, we're donating THIRTY percent to the foundation, not fifteen. I've asked Lucy to fix these things in the original post. Mea culpa!

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  17. Oh, this has to go on my shopping list. Christine Poulson featured it at her blog too. Thank goodness for ordering on line.

    River is one of my favourite Christmas songs, and Chelsea Morning often comes to mind when I'm cutting an orange as the sun streams in my kitchen window. (Milk and toast and honey might be at hand as well).

    Especially though, it's A Case of You.

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    1. A Case of You has always been a favorite of mine, Susan.

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  18. This is SUCH a cheering conversation! We spend so much time thinking about crime that it's spirit-lifting to look at both sides now. My life too has been full of adventures echoed (&/or with a soundtrack) by Joni Mitchell. I learned how to open-tune my guitar to play "Michael from Mountains" & "Cactus Tree"; I left New England for San Francisco to become a Lady of the Canyon. My multimedia mystery novel "Another Number for the Road" is all about this music: journalist Cory Goodwin (daughter of Archie) returns to Paris, where she felt unfettered & alive, to investigate the 1974 murder of a rock-&-roll man. (Help me!) One trigger for this book was seeing Joni Mitchell try to play on Boston Common, so out of it she basically taped her regrets to the microphone stand. That jolted me into asking how such hot hot blazes come down to smoke & ash. So, OK, coronavirus. True, you don't know what you've got till it's gone. Still, no regrets: we are stardust, we are golden; I'm glad for the coyote who lives up at the park & the accordionist who walks through the neighborhood playing real good for free; & I can't wait to read this anthology!

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    1. Thank you, CJ - you touched so many songs in your comment!

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  19. Count me in as a fan of Joni Mitchell's music -- especially River, which Judy Collins has covered in her latest album titled Winter Stories. I love Joni's original version, but deeply appreciate Judy's take on it. She is 80 now, I believe, and still recording: Wow!

    I'll be looking for this anthology. Thanks for the introduction to it, Edith, via today's JRW post!

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    1. Glad you saw it, Amanda. Judy Collins is also a treasure, of course.

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  20. It's truly gratifying to see this outpouring of interest in Joni's work and The Beat of Black Wings. If you purchase the book, please do review it on Amazon, Goodreads, wherever you like. Reviews create sales ... and sales create larger donations in Joni's name to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, an organization close to the hearts of a surprising number of you. I'm so sorry about those friends and family members you've last — so happy that there are (and will hopefully over time be more and more) survivors.

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  21. How can you pick a favorite Joni Mitchell song? I honestly believe she and Leonard Cohen are the best songwriter/storyteller/poets of the 20th century. Was there something in the water in Canada in the 30s and 40s? Because you also have to account for the McGarrigle Sisters, too.

    Anyway, with a source that rich, the resulting stories have got to be special. Looking forward to reading them!

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    1. Agreed! I can't pick a favorite.

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    2. Yes, there are many incredible singer/songwriter/poets from Canada but often only reached global success by leaving the country and going to the US.

      I only listed the famous ones who were part of the Yorkville coffee house scene with Joni in the 1960s. I'm glad someone else knows and enjoys the music of Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Julia!

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    3. Agree, Julia! I love the McGarrigle Sisters so much, too.

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  22. Edith,

    Since I came from a musical family (great-grandmother's cousin was an opera singer; my aunt sang folk songs and my cousins are professional musicians - The Good Ol' Persons; the Golden Souls; Chicago Symphony? ), I am familiar with some music despite my hearing loss. Growing up with profound hearing loss, I knew more about movies than music - LOL. I asked my family about Joni Mitchell and I just found out that they LOVE her! The song California is a favorite song in the family.

    Please do NOT enter me for an eBook. I loved the post and wanted to comment. Love your Quaker Midwife series.

    Diana

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  23. Edith and Josh, this is so fabulous!! It's raining here, with a dark sky and springs storms rolling in, and I'm going to be listening to Joni Mitchell all weekend now. How to pick a favorite song? She was such a brilliant poet. All the albums take me back to college, living in my little second story garage apartment with the screened porch and the crape myrtle blooming outside the windows. I had my turntable and my orange crates of vinyl, and played Joni Mitchell all the time. Chelsea Morning would be up there. Big Yellow Taxi. And I can't listen to Both Sides Now without seeing the scene in Love Actually.

    The brain aneurysm reference for me is the death of the writer Laurie Colwin. I was a huge fan. We were the same age, with only daughters the same age, and I was so shocked when I heard she'd died of an aneurysm. Such a loss.

    I think this is a book I'd like to hold and dip into when the mood strikes, so going to look it up now!

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    1. Awesome, Debs. I'm glad to help give you an excuse to listen to Joni for the foreseeable future.

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  24. What a beautiful cover, a brilliant idea, and a fabulous cause. I'm really looking forward to picking up this book for so many reasons not the least of which is a lifelong love of Joni Mitchell. Thank you all for contributing!

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    1. We all have Josh to thank! I hope you love the stories.

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  25. I am very anxious to read this book. Huge Joni fan. I was in Europe the summer 1972. Stayed at a pension in Athens that the owner told us Joni had stayed at the previous year! I think every song on "Blue" is my favorite, A Case of You: "Cause part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time". Also "Ladies of the Canyon" is good. Your book is wonderful & benefiting the aneurysm cause too! Thank you!

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  26. Thanks for putting this together, Edith! I'm so excited to be a part of this very cool anthology--can't wait to read everyone's stories!

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  27. I love all of her music, but the songs on Blue are part of the soundtrack of my life.

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