Monday morning, that age-old question. You might wonder if the woman in purple singing the Frankie Lymon part is Joni Mitchell. It is. (Frankie Lymon, born in Washington Heights, can be seen in the video’s black and white clip of kids dancing. Frankie is the shortest of them, but also the guy who wrote and recorded the song when he was 13 in 1956, making it a big hit. Unfortunately, Frankie died tragically young at the age of 25.)
Joni Mitchell, 78 years old, appeared this week at the Newport Folk Festival–her first public concert for 20 years. She’s had an aneurysm and other health problems, but with a little help from her friends (Brandi Carlile, Wynona Judd) she sang, among other songs, “Both Sides Now,” “Summertime,” and the song above, a very touching “The Circle Game.”
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?
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.