Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ladies (and gents) of the canyon

A lavish mixture of photos and prose by music historian and pop culture archivist Harvey Kubernik, Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon portrays a huge roster of iconic canyon dwellers and visitors, including David Crosby, James Taylor, and of course Joni Mitchell. To me and to many others, Mitchell is a goddess who towers over her peers like a redwood from her adopted California. In few individuals has the flame of art burned so brightly and with such a wide spectrum of hues. Among her magnificent legacy of songs is 1968's "Ladies of the Canyon," with its typically dense, poetic lyrics. Estrella Berosini (a "circus girl" for real) deconstructs the stanzas about her on Joni's website, as do the other two "ladies": Trina Robbins and Annie Burden. Here Estrella describes her first sight of Joni:
"It was like stepping from a pitch black room into the snow-blind white light of a crystal bright Canadian winterscape. I was stunned by the beauty of this absolutely foreign creature, who barely touched ground as she lightly clicked onto the vinyl tile kitchen floor. I locked on her face first; perfectly proportioned, perfect skin, immaculately clean, straight blonde hair and... OH MY GOD, WHAT WAS SHE WEARING?!? Her dress had stepped out of a renaissance painting, but was cut off just above the knee, and a loose, muted silver buckled belt hung below her waistline. Just like the paintings of royal ladies of old. She looked as though she stepped from the pages of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy."  
Joni Mitchell. Photo by Henry Diltz, 1971. From Rolling Stone (courtesy Morrison Hotel Gallery).
  Like those of Bob Dylan, Joni's lyrics have been published as books. Her concert DVD Refuge of the Roads ends with the visionary "Woodstock," which also appears on the remastered album Ladies of the Canyon. "With its slow, jazz-inflected pacing, her 'Woodstock' is a moody and at times heartbreakingly melancholy art song" says Camille Paglia before explicating its lyrics in Break, Blow, Burn, her study of significant works by poets ranging from Emily Dickinson to Shakespeare, Shelley, and Stevens. In Refuge, Mitchell performs the song on electric guitar; in this 1969 video from Big Sur she plays piano.

Former canyon denizens are also heavily featured in the fantastic CD/documentary package Carole King & James Taylor: Troubadours, a top-notch social/musical history of the folk-rock, singer-songwriter era.


  1. What an amazing voice! Thanks for posting the vid. Joni's face is so very expressive. You can tell she isn't just singing a song... she's "feeling" the music the whole time and giving everything she has.

  2. "We are stardust, we are golden." Perhaps the most apt representation of the era, "Woodstock" is one of those rare songs that maintains its' freshness regardless of the era/context. CSNY's faithful rendition only shows how broad Mitchell's influence really was. Imagine the jam sessions back then!!

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  4. Harvey Kubernik is one of, if not the, definitive writers on this topic, as well as on other crucial happenings in the ever-expansive historical universe of rock 'n' roll. I can't wait to immerse myself in the priceless photos and moments detailed in this book!