The Revision Dilemma

It’s not too often we get to hear a singer/songwriter’s process of development.

A few days ago, I posted video of Joni Mitchell’s classic song, All I Want. Today I stumbled on this fascinating live video of Joni Mitchell singing a very early version of the same song—or is it? Although you can still hear phrases that ended up in the final version, and that mountain dulcimer is playing the same riff throughout, the specific words, and the entire theme of the song, are very different. If you get a few minutes, maybe you could compare the two versions for yourself before you read on.

While this early version is certainly less polished, there’s something very raw and moving to me about it. It seems a shame to me that some of the strongest aspects of this song have been revised out of it.

Is that inevitable? With the need to straighten and tidy up, will an artist inevitably lose some of the initial raw power? I hope not. Lately I have been creeping like a baby to the bath with each revision of my novel. I’m not sure I want to clean off. I am reluctant with every new change. What if, what if, I cut out the guts of it? It will be prettier and tidier and more presentable, but will I have made a terrible mistake?

All I Want: Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell was the odd one out when it came to the folk madonna trio of Judy, Joan, and Joni. Her persona was always quirkier, edgier, more self-conscious, and less self-righteous than the other two women. Her music delights in jazz riffs and unusual shifts in key. The kid from art class, she was always swimming away from the mainstream rather than towards it. Try to keep up with her Monday morning as she is traveling, traveling, traveling, traveling. Click on the triangle above to travel with Joni.