It was either late 1978 or early 1979 that I first discovered the genius of Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira.” I can still feel the hard linoleum under the dorm-room throw rug I was lying on. My roommate, Mike, was out, and I had control of his amazing stereo. With his big, puffy headphones covering my ears and an illegal, cigarette-paper-wrapped burning taper by my side (gimme a break, it was 1979), I laid back on an oversized Marimekko-covered floor pillow and let those amazing metaphors wrap around me, laid down with lush, bluesy guitar riffs, courtesy of Jaco Pastorious. I had found a muse and a touchpoint that I’ve turned back to time and time again for more than 30 years.
I had just realized a soulmate in Joni the previous year, through the extremely accessible “Court and Spark.” I expanded from there to “Blue” and “The Hissing of Summer Lawns.” But “Hejira” touched something deep in me. The title draws on an Arabic word meaning “journey,” and the entire album is about travel and movement, both physical and emotional. I can pretty much sing through the entire album by heart, now – “no regrets, coyote, you just picked up a hitcher, a prisoner, of the fine white lines of the highway”… “each so deep and superficial between the forceps and the stone”… “a thunderhead of judgment was gathering in my gaze”… “white flags of winter chimneys wave truce against the moon, in the mirror of a modern bank, from the window of a hotel room.” She was 30 years old when she wrote those lines. 30 years old.
Tonight, to tame my spinning mind, I’ve got that CD (yeah, I’m old school) spinning yet again. I’ve got a small house, and the stereo is in the living room, so when Dad’s here it’s hard for me to have music playing. Thirty-one years after that first listen, I’m now sitting on a comfortable sofa with a glowing fire going in the woodstove, and it’s a glass of red wine – not a joint (we call this progress?) – keeping me company, but I still find myself calling out, “I’m like a black crow flying in a blue sky” to that song’s driving rhythm, as though I were, yet again, a stoned 19-year-old just discovering the power of words to draw a picture.
It was an old spirit that created that album, but listening to it now gives me a sense memory – peeling back cellophane, slipping out the paper-covered vinyl and being careful to avoid fingerprints, dropping the disc onto the turntable (maybe with a quick pass of the Discwasher brush – remember those?). Then turning up the volume – and down the lights – to let the music take over. Thank you, Joni, for creating a work that has both helped me through many journeys, and helped me remember the journeys that brought me to where I am now.