‘For Free’

(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.)


Last Sunday, Joni Mitchell appeared live at the famous Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island. Just the fact that she was live was pretty amazing given her long struggle to recover from a brain aneurysm. No one expected her to ever sing or play again, yet here she was at 78, sitting in a gilded chair surrounded by so many younger fans and friends still delivering with skill and her trademark melancholy songs like “Both Sides Now,” “The Circle Game,” even “Big Yellow Taxi.” And when at the end of “Both Sides Now” she sang, “I really don’t know life at all,” one reviewer concluded that was sung “not in bewilderment or wistful regret but with amused surrender and a glint of delight. Why waste time trying to pin down the unknowable?”

You can find the videos on YouTube; it’s worth it — such a joyous honoring of a life of artistry that simply captured the human experience for so many. No answers — no solutions — just a celebration of the incomplete. As Mary McNamara wrote today in the Los Angeles Times, “It wasn’t just the wondrous and wholly unexpected sight and sound of this Canadian-born American master live that caused throats around the world to catch. It was the sight and sound of her at this moment in time, when the planet is under siege; the world is beset by famine, plague and politics; and the seventh seal of American culture appears to have come undone … it’s hard to remember how real artistry can connect us — for years, for generations — if given half a chance.”

“[And] maybe somewhere,” McNamara concludes, “amid the doomscrolling of all that is wrong with the world, you’ll find a video of Joni Mitchell doing what she thought she would never do again: Singing songs she wrote to help explain the world.”

Does she explain it? Does she succeed? Hardly. But she brings us all along in the attempt.

What’s your favorite Joni Mitchell song? Here’s a verse from mine. It’s called “For Free.”

Now me I play for fortunes

And those velvet curtain calls 

I’ve got a black limousine 

And two gentlemen 

Escorting me to the halls 

And I play if you have the money 

Or if you’re a friend to me 

But the one man band 

By the quick lunch stand 

He was playing real good for free

This entry was posted in Art and Life, Worldview and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ‘For Free’

  1. John Fagliano says:

    I remember an episode of the TVShow “party of 5″ where the family visited their parents grave. As they left the Circle game was playing and the show ended with the lyrics” we can’t return we can only look behind from where we came…” After that whenever I visited my parents grave, when I walked away I would hum that.

    Other favorite lyrics: Well something is lost but something is gained in living every day

    I dreamed I saw the bomber jet planes turn to butterflies above the nation. ( her own take on beating swords into plowshares)

  2. Sandie says:

    I was not a folk music fan, so not really familiar with Joni Mitchell. But I felt (and still feel) that way when I hear The Eagles song, There’s a Hole in The World Tonight, written in the aftermath of 9/11.

  3. Andrew Zwick says:

    Joni, what a talent. She continues to touch many. Even though she wrote it for me it was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s performance of Woodstock that seemed to summarize a generation.

  4. Toni Petrella says:

    God is always pleased when their is optimism. Her music tries to inspire each of us. The words give all of us something to think about and glad She is still with us inspiring us with each song.

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