Joni Mitchell, by Mark Bego
image via greenobles.com
Biographies about living persons, particularly celebrities, are problematic, well, because of the obvious – that life isn’t yet complete. It’s unclear that Bego had Mitchell’s approval to write this book, and, as I suspect here, there’s always the possibility of a lawsuit if the author digs too deeply into a person’s life, or writes unvarnished facts, facts that contradict the celebrity’s self-constructed image. And let’s not kid ourselves; persons as savvy as Mitchell do have the ability to orchestrate their own image.
For the record: I’m a fan of Mitchell’s music, not only the early stuff, that established her in the music business, but albums such as “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” “Hejira,” and “Turbulent Indigo.” In fact I find the scattering of music I’ve heard from her other, less accepted albums to be a collective, exhilarating experience – and I’m not often drawn to the melancholy that distinguishes much of Mitchell’s music.
Bego’s book isn’t a true biography as much as it’s a pastiche of interviews and reviews of the artist’s music. The effect on this reader and listener is a deeper understanding of the burden of Mitchell’s creativity. But strangely, Bego’s book leaves all too many questions about Mitchell unanswered – not the voyeuristic, deconstructive tripe of grocery store journalism, but the personal intimacies that would allow one to understand her life better. And as a result, the overarching feel is that of a distant, mythic Mitchell, one whose professed vulnerabilities somehow always make sense, a life always under Mitchell’s control.
The book seems to have been written hurriedly. Much of the text is repetitive; there’s poor grammar, and awkward sentences. Still, there’s always the sense that Bego truly cares about Mitchell.
Despite the shortcomings, this is a book worth reading if you’ve followed Mitchell’s career and have been continually transfixed, as I have, by her musical talent.
My rating: 15 of 20 stars