Joni Mitchell: "Hejira" Song by Song Thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Parachute Woman, Oct 10, 2018.

  1. chrisblower

    chrisblower Forum Resident

    Just because I differ in view to you doesn't make my opinion wrong. A very poor choice by Crosby imho. A great album full of surprises but a duff version of Joni's classic.
  2. Dr. Pepper

    Dr. Pepper What, me worry?

    Of course, I was joking. Hence the smiley face.:D
    Geee! likes this.
  3. DrJ

    DrJ Senior Member

    Davis, CA, USA
    I've been busy and so way behind posting on these Joni song-by-song threads.

    I will be brief as it is late and there is a long day ahead. I cannot go track by track on this album. It is a seamless whole for me. Each song builds on the last one, and there is a remarkable unity and coherence when played start to finish. And there may be no other album where the lyrics and music are so locked together, inextricable. The spareness of the music serves this, and the amazing telepathic musical relationship she had with Jaco Pastorius. And those lyrics, my God. Every one is a masterpiece.

    For me, it is the perfect Joni Mitchell album, the crown jewel among the dazzling collection of riches that is her catalog. Side 1 somehow manages to top the first side of FOR THE ROSES, and Side 2 isn't far off. This is what she had been working toward, though probably not fully consciously, since FOR THE ROSES, that feat of taking material that is intensely personal yet resonates as universal. I think this stems from the loneliness and depression that permeate her work, feelings that touch us all, that lurk right under the surface for most of us even when we're "happy":

    A woman I knew just drowned herself
    The well was deep and muddy
    She was just shaking off futility
    Or punishing somebody
    My friends were calling up all day yesterday
    All emotions and abstractions
    It seems we all live so close to that line
    and so far from satisfaction
    (verse from "Song for Sharon")

    She escapes these feelings for fleeting moments, taking refuge in the road and a series of relationships and, ultimately, her work (the STUDIO), but ultimately always ends up returning to and accepting her melancholy and fiercely individualistic nature - harnessing it even for her art - rather than succumbing to despair - a theme that I mentioned in discussing FOR THE ROSES (most evident on "Judgement of the Moon and Stars") and the one I think most strongly defines her work post-BLUE through DON JUAN'S RECKLESS DAUGHTER.

    Ultimately, the work of this period, capped by the majestic HEJIRA, is deeply heroic. It is not the kind of heroism that is often trumpeted, but maybe the greatest kind, the force of will to transcend and create things of beauty for the world from staring down and embracing one's own solitary suffering.

    It is no coincidence that Joni Mitchell has compared herself, through musical and visual references, to "tortured artists" like Beethoven and Van Gogh. This is not borne of ego, it simply reflects a keen perception of parallels, both in terms of artistic achievements and temperament.

    In her "escaping with honor" - which ironically (given the way this album is often read/interpreted as a kind of celebration of the road and physical journeys) I believe ultimately means not "hitting the road" and jumping from diversion to diversion and instead learning to stay and face down fear and sadness and loneliness and accept your fundamental isolation in this strange and mysterious universe and even live to tell about it - she gives us all a little more hope that we might manage to act as honorably.

    I cannot think of an album that tops this one, by any artist, though a few are on par. Easily within my Top 10 albums ever, by anyone, possibly at the very top.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
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  4. chrisblower

    chrisblower Forum Resident

    He's covering Woodstock on the soon to be released new album. I've read the other three had misgivings. But when he sings with Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis it sounds like he's singing with angels. Fingers crossed for this one.
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  5. chrisblower

    chrisblower Forum Resident

    I had the same thought yesterday in the car myself, but was listening to Kind of Blue. Hejira's easily is in my top 5 albums tho, alongside Hot Rats.
    DrJ likes this.
  6. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Resident

    Perth Australia
    He sounded fine duetting with Joan Baez on "Blackbird". It's probably just a matter of needing to choose the right songs, and, at his age, making sure it's something comfortably within his range.
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  7. HenryFly

    HenryFly Forum Resident

    This is only the second of PWs threads (after Blue) that I feel slightly ambivalent about. I'm going to duck out of the thread temporarily and spend time with the album as an album again before wading back in. I felt my heart hardening against it as I played the full album yesterday whilst reading the Amelia comments. To do Hejira justice, I need a break. Back soon...
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  8. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Midlands, UK
    “Amelia” is my favourite song on the album: the imagery is so superficially attractive, the spectral image of Amelia Earhart so romantic, the music so mesmerising. Yet the discussion has persuaded me that I've never looked deeply enough into this lyric.

    I assumed, without thinking about it much, that the planes in the sky represented the threat of nuclear war, rather as they do before turning into butterflies on “Woodstock”. So perhaps you have a military aviatrix who became famous for her peacetime heroism: a sort of female antitype to the masculine warrior. Maybe her representation of flight as a benign thing - a thing for pioneers and explorers - has been displaced by the image of the bomber. And then the literal false alarm that triggers a third world war by accident is overwritten with the image of a lost hope: that the peacenik spirit of the hippies disappeared like Earhart.

    I thought something like that but, having read the pregnancy suggestion, I'm convinced that I was wrong.

    For a start, anxiety about nuclear weapons was never a very important subject for Joni Mitchell, and that anxiety was past its prime by this point as a subject for songwriting. Then there's the fact that such a mysterious, yearning song would be kind of banal if it boiled down to nostalgia for Summer of Love optimism. Thirdly, a false alarm is so commonly used as a term for false pregnancy that I'm surprised I missed it.

    So the view I'm moving to is this. Mitchell herself feels earthbound. In American lore, no one is more free than the adventurer on a road trip, yet she feels herself to be a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway because the real freedom is being enjoyed by Coyote: sexual freedom, with no consequences (because he's a man and can’t get pregnant) coupled with the paradoxical freedom of being in a place: i.e. on his ranch “brushing out a brood mare’s tail”. (That gravid mare suddenly seems a lot more important now, eh?) Richard married a figure skater; the figure skater married Richard; Joni has no one coming to her table and these days she doesn't even have the temporary refuge of a dark café.

    A false pregnancy would bring an end to her aimless travelling: she would need a home, just to provide stability for a child that the experience of bearing a daughter would have led her to think of as a girl. (Mitchell could have made that choice with her first child so in a way she's also considering a life that she never led.) And she does what everyone does when they anticipate a child: she thinks of the child as living a different life, being airborn and free in comparison. She thinks of her second daughter as being able to take reckless, glorious risks.

    But no, it was a false alarm, no daughter. So she calls this imaginary child “Amelia” not because Amelia Earhart died but because Amelia Earhart disappeared.

    For me, this reading of “Amelia” explains the sadness in the song which makes it so appealing. Yes, on Blue she was already on a lonely road and she was travelling but now sentiments that were previously disguised with a jaunty, upbeat rhythm are unambiguously bleak and downbeat. If you look again at her haunted, transfigured face on the album cover it's not difficult to see “Amelia” as the song that it most closely evokes.
  9. VU Master

    VU Master Forum Resident

    Thanks to PW and all others who responded. After after thinking this over and re-reading the lyrics a few times, allow me to respond. (I’ve thought about this song more in the last 24 hours than I ever did when listening to the album!)

    Like many here, I always felt that false alarm referred to a relationship that hadn’t worked out, and the Wiki article (if we believe it) agrees. Sometimes people use that term to describe dashed hopes. In North America at least, someone might say “I thought I’d won a big jackpot on the slot machine but it was just a false alarm.” Almost all of Joni’s “dis-satisfaction with life” lyrics (up and including this album, at least) had to do with relationship issues. I really don’t think that line was about a pregnancy, because other parts of the song allude to disappointment in romance (I wish that he was here tonight / It's so hard to obey / His sad request of me to kindly stay away...looking down on everything / I crashed into his arms...And I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust). Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; maybe more of these lyrics should be taken at face value.

    Similarly, I think the six jet planes have little deeper meaning beyond what they actually are. Driving through the desert in California or Nevada, one often sees military jets performing maneuvers. The sight is very striking and thought provoking, and you almost cannot look away. Her opening lines describing this are very powerful and evocative, maybe my favorite part of the song, and are another connection to Amelia Earhart. According to the Wiki article, Joni said that the song was "almost an exact account of her experience in the desert”. But I don’t think those lines are meant to hint at nuclear war, or anything else. Maybe you guys are reading a little too much into the tea leaves here. I mean, all great art is subject to personal interpretation, and sure, when an composer writes a lyric like this, they're inviting the listener to overlay their own personal experience and interpretation. The song has no “official meaning”. But if we’re trying to get at what was on her mind, or what her intent was when these lines written, maybe we should remove our emotional and intellectual decoration a little, and be more literal about the lines.

    PW, you made some good points and I read your post carefully, but sorry, I still feel the same way. You wrote "I don't think Joni writes about Amelia because of her death.” I don't think her death is the heart of this song, but I think it's an important part. The lines Others just come to harm, The road leads cursed and charmed, She was swallowed by the sky, I crashed into his arms, all touch on that. That’s all fine, they are good lyrics, but I get the feeling she was saying “We are both tragic female figures.” This seems to overstate something.

    Probably the one line that most trouble me is Like me, she had a dream to fly. Isn’t that backwards? I’ve made some interesting discoveries in Asia but would never say of Sir Edmund Hillary (a personal hero), “Like me, he had a dream to explore.” PW, I don’t think you'd write anything like that about a great writer you admire. I love Joni’s music as much as anyone else here (well, maybe except for PW) but can’t help wondering if some of this was influenced by fine white lines, or her eeee-go. :)

    As I wrote in my earlier post, part of me really does like this song and on a musical level, it touches me. It feels weird to diss a song that's so loved by almost everyone else here. Maybe like Henry, putting this album under the microscope now, I'm slightly more critical of some songs than before. That would be very weird because this album was a huge personal favorite for many years. And I never felt that way about C&S or Hissing when we discussed those, though I did with FTR at times. I guess I'll know by the end of the thread. Thanks again for all your comments.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  10. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road

    I agree with you completely about the planes in the sky. It's a distraction .... She has other more pressing emotional things on her mind and we come into the picture as the planes grab her attention and capture her imagination. Then as we move into the second verse there is only a remnant of the thoughts of planes, and we move into the idea that the planes have given her, in regard to the thoughts that have been mulling since the planes distracted her, she is contemplating her life from the residual thoughts of the planes "life becomes a travelogue Of picture-post-card-charms"

    Perhaps the only connection with Amelia Earhart here is the solo flight. Perhaps as Amelia has become famous for her solo flights, Joni is merely stating that her life seems like a solo flight in relationship to the way things have gone for her relationshipwise.

    So there again following that line of thought, perhaps the false alarm was the fact that most men and women feel an urgency to be with "someone" and with the pressures of the world and family and friends constantly reminding us of these kind of things. -
    "When are you going to settle down"
    "I can't believe you haven't found someone yet"
    etc etc .... Perhaps the false alarm is in relation to the inability to find that "one". Perhaps she is starting to find contentment in her own company and the urgency to pair off has become muted. "Oh Amelia it was just a false alarm", I'm better at flying this plane solo.

    Even in spite of this, She wishes that he was here tonight, because even the most individual of us loves company, no matter how much we try and trick ourselves that we don't. There will always be a tricky dynamic between having enough alone time, and having enough companionship. It's the timing of that companionship that can be most difficult. And in this instance his request to kindly stay away has resulted in this little sojourn that has lead to contemplation and the vision of the jets and the idea of solo flights.

    All this leads her to some self examination, while contemplating the life of Amelia .... and then finally the day of contemplation of lonely highways and lifes desires and disappointments leads to unsteady sleep dreaming of the thoughts that have disturbed and delighted the previous day.
  11. oxegen

    oxegen Forum Resident

    Dublin, Ireland
    Yes, Joni covers those points in page 230 of the book.
  12. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I have very much enjoyed this in depth and wonderful discussion of the intricacies of 'Amelia'! Really, wow guys. So many great posts! Moving to the next track:

    Track 3: "Furry Sings the Blues"

    Drums John Guerin
    Bass Max Bennett
    Harmonica Neil Young
    Guitar Mitchell

    Lyrical Excerpt:
    Pawn shops glitter like gold tooth caps
    In the grey decay
    They chew the last few dollars off
    Old Beale Street's carcass
    Carrion and mercy
    Blue and silver sparkling drums
    Cheap guitars, eye shades and guns
    Aimed at the hot blood of being no one
    Down and out in Memphis, Tennessee
    Old Furry sings the blues
    You bring him smoke and drink and he'll play for you
    lt's mostly muttering now and sideshow spiel
    But there was one song he played
    I could really feel

    Complete Lyrics at Joni Mitchell's Official Site

    Walter E. "Furry" Lewis (March 6, 1893 or 1899 – September 14, 1981) was an American country blues guitarist and songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee. He was one of the first of the blues musicians active in the 1920s to be brought out of retirement and given new opportunities to record during the folk blues revival of the 1960s. Joni Mitchell's song "Furry Sings the Blues" (on her album Hejira), is about her visit to Lewis's apartment and a mostly ruined Beale Street on February 5, 1976. Lewis despised the Mitchell song and felt she should pay him royalties for being its subject.

    William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958) was a composer and musician, known as the Father of the Blues. An African American, Handy was one of the most influential songwriters in the United States. One of many musicians who played the distinctively American blue music, Handy did not create the blues genre and was not the first to publish music in the blues form, but he took the blues from a regional music style (Delta blues) with a limited audience to a new level of popularity.
  13. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Midlands, UK
    I can't comment on US usage but it's far more likely that false alarm refers to something bad than something good in UK English usage and even more likely that we'd be talking about pregnancy or a cancer scare than anything else. There’s nothing very “alarming” about a possible jackpot on a slot machine.

    I think we can all agree that the pregnancy hypothesis is not obvious from the song; it had certainly never occurred to me previously. But while a cigar is indeed sometimes a cigar, there's a well-established critical dictum that says we prefer explanations of art that are richer & more satisfying, and as a topic for great art a stogie is neither. So we have to square the circle of a song about Amelia Earhart, sadness, a love affair, driving down a road, a false alarm etc. There's no question that Earhart is symbolic on some level and the only question is what she symbolizes.

    It could be just that line that you quote: “like me she had a dream to fly”. There's no ego in that line because Amelia did fly, literally, and Joni is earthbound and unable to fly ... so the full thought is: like me she had a dream to fly but unlike me she achieved it. But that's a long way to go ‘round and only make that point and it's positively counterintuitive if all Joni meant was I had a dream to have this really great relationship but it was a false alarm and Amelia Earhart actually flew a plane. Boiled down to that the song would be silly.

    S0 then we look at flight and remember that the abum's called Hejira where flight=escape. Earhart had a dream to fly (literally) but disappeared; I have a dream to escape (which I'm facilitating by driving down this road or starting this or that relationship) but can't escape. I still don't love that reading. To me it's more laboured (pun, of course, intended) than the pregnancy one because Earhart didn't meaningfully escape, she died, so it's difficult to be wistful about her unless you’re really being wistful about something closer to you.

    There's a Gillian Clarke poem called “Babysitting”. On one reading it's a very powerful poem about post partem depression but the poet came out and corrected this: it's just about her feelings when she was babysitting. Now you can feel what you like about authorial intention but the version of the poem “written” by readers is a lot better than the one written by the poet: it's either a great poem about a mother alienated from her baby or a very pedestrian one about sitting someone else's baby. And with the pregnancy reading of “Amelia” of course it could be wrong but I find it's explanatory force to be very persuasive.
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  14. Parachute Woman

    Parachute Woman Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Furry Sings the Blues
    When I first heard this album in my late teens, I did not get this song or why it was on the album or how it fit into the overall flow. In fact, I don't think I even liked it for a long period. It was certainly one of the Joni songs that took me the longest time to appreciate--especially during her 'classic' period. A song about a grumpy old blues guy I'd never heard of? I wanted songs I could relate to, and I couldn't relate to that at all.

    I've come to really enjoy 'Furry,' though. In many ways, it predates the concept of Hejira or the journeys Joni would go on. It is one of the oldest compositions on the record, having been performed in its earliest stages on the Hissing tour. One one level, it's about a visit that Joni (and her entourage...note the reference to the limo in the final verse) paid to a crumbling Beale Street and Furry. On another level, it's about the dying out of this entire generation of artists that came before Joni--their way of life, their music...all crumbling and old just like Beale Street itself. Joni herself is no longer part of the young, hip generation. She and her '60s brethren would soon be middle-aged and the world of pop music would be dominated by newer, younger artists. Punk, New Wave were upcoming and the '80s were coming fast. Time moves on.

    Furry is cantankerous within the song (and without it--he apparently hated this song) but he can occasionally still capture some of that old magic and beauty. Joni's got some self-awareness in this song. She knows she's a rich young star paying a visit to people who don't know her or like her music. But she's honest about the state of Beale Street and the blues at this point as well. The arrangement is somber and captures the feeling of tiredness, brokenness we're seeing in the lyrics. Neil Young's harmonica playing is very good--like the soft cry in a smoky old pub, punctuating the melody.

    'Furry Sings the Blues' is a mature song from an artist reflecting upon the place of art in the world. Meticulous in arrangement, spare and patient...I've grown into this song. It's not a road song, but it is a song of place and travel as Joni experiences a world far from her own and learns from it.
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  15. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Midlands, UK
    “Old Furry Sings The Blues” is a great piece of reportage. It's hardly surprising that Lewis hated the song: it paints a vivid picture of his decrepitude and need. There's a conscious brutality about Mitchell's unflinching gaze here, with the lyric being a far better version of “Real Good For Free”. She is guilty about her cultural appropriation but refreshingly unwilling to romanticize the culture that she's appropriating.

    I agree that at first sight it doesn't fit into the themes of the album, so you have to bend it a little. I think that if you see the album about the traveller's failure either to integrate into communities or escape them then you could argue that this song provides a concrete example: she brings the drink & smoke but he won't accept her, there's only one song that she even seems to like. If you measure this song against the idyllic folksong gathering expeditions of the 1960s you're seeing alienation here instead of some rewarding pilgrimage. I like her honesty here.
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  16. VU Master

    VU Master Forum Resident

    Mark, thank you for that wonderful post, a great response to my comments yesterday. I especially liked this part:

    I think those comments contain a lot of truth and insight, and I have a slightly off-topic response. For a couple of years I was involved with a woman who was very rich and successful. That status made it nearly impossible for her to find (or stay with) a suitable partner, or even to have the kind of friendships that most people take for granted. Nearly everyone who came into contact with her tried to use her in some way, sometimes blatantly. She was a trusting soul and unfortunately most of them succeeded, at least while I knew her. Most men were definitely intimidated by her, and the pool of eligible bachelors was tiny. (How many guys could drop what they were doing and buy business class tickets to New York for the weekend, because the idea stuck her fancy? Not me. She usually offered to pay. I couldn't accept, but others did.)

    A powerful, wealthy man--a master of the universe--can always "date down" (Pretty Woman) with little stigma or discomfort on either side. But for a woman in that position it's very, very different. It's a minefield. I think Joni was indeed quite wealthy, and we know she was a brilliant, forceful woman who would not suffer fools gladly; not for long anyway. I think that romance, and finding a good man that she could trust, must have been extremely challenging and frustrating for her. So yes, Mark, I think a part of her probably became resigned to flying solo, and I think you're right; that's part of the lesson in this song.
  17. Lurch

    Lurch Well-Known Member

    Hejira is my favorite Joni Mitchell album, and Amelia is my favorite Joni song. The lyrics are simply amazing, and the musical arrangement/execution is sublime.
  18. audiotom

    audiotom Ground Control to Major Tom

    New Orleans La USA
    Hejira is my favorite Joni album
    I take great comfort in its wanderlust
    Driven many long ventures solo in exquisite places - soul searching and mystified
    There is also great comfort in the melancholy - particularly in the way Joni lays it out so eloquently

    sorry to have missed Coyote and Amelia

    I always thought Jaco's playing on Coyote was so revolutionary
    all of a sudden you have this song propelled by these flowing bass lines
    not as arrogant as his playing would become - he was still on his meteoric rise upwards in jazz circles
    in awe of Joni as well
    wonder how they met

    I can't say more than has already been stated about Amelia
    I feel as one transposed to a place in Joshua Tree
    a long drive the day before

    I have always put the following line and year in every book I own

    Like Icarus ascending on beautiful foolish arms

    gets me every time
    it's a journey as one in transposed in the novel as well
    always a nice conversation a few days after I lend it out

    Amelia it was just a false alarm
    to me it's means a distraction removed - both abstract and in the moment
    not anything overtly pressing - even the relationships are fleeting not fatalistic to her core
    if anything Joni is singular - strong willed - needs and is very protective of her space

    Joni is righting her focus/compass here

    much like you do when on a soul searching journey alone.

    off to Furry Sings the Blues

    If Joni thought Beale Street was commercialized back then....
    those Pawnshops have been replaced by chintzy tourist shops , BBQ's, booming dance clubs
    no ghosts in this overblown "Bourbon Street" mob scene anymore

    The limo mention stands out - a bit pompous at that - a big entourage
    why would Joni on a cross country visit be glitzing it up - particularly in Memphis
    perhaps it is written to contrast her arrogant stardom with his fading into obscurity

    I always wondered what was that one song I could really feel?

    if you ever get the chance - a drive up from New Orleans to Memphis along the Blues Trail is very engaging
    when you head west off the main interstate 55 south or north of Jackson Mississippi you are immediately placed back 100 years ago
    Route 61 -cotton fields - old shanty houses, juke joints
    you will get up to Clarksdale and see the modern corner of the Crossroads HWY 61 with HWY 49

    Robert Johnson's deal with the devil is now a gas station, Sonic, Dollar and video store with a guitar monument on a pole in the intersection

    The Mississippi Blues Trail - Home

    there is a nice Blues Museum in Clarksdale - and a music festival each year.
    This is Morgan Freeman's home town.

    A quick jaunt across the Mississippi River to Helena Arkansas - King Biscuit Flower home - festival and museum
    then upwards to Memphis.

    Graceland, the Casinos and Beale Street will seem rather foreign by then


  19. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road

    definitely ...

    edit: i missed that first bit ... thank you for inspiring the thought process. it helped me understand the song better
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  20. mark winstanley

    mark winstanley Pick up a fast car, burn my name in the road

    Much like you, I found this track to be the odd sock.
    I like it, stylistically it is on par with everything on here. I have never delved deeply into the lyrics to be honest.
    I find the harmonica sounds slightly out of place on the album ... i don't know why (i like harmonica) ... i understand that it keeps the connection to the blues singer, but it feels like a musical clash with the smoothness of everything else.
    It is most likely my least favourite song on here, but amongst the company it keeps that is no shame either. Still a worthwhile picture in this gallery.
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  21. VU Master

    VU Master Forum Resident

    Furray Sings The Blues

    Just some quick comments this time.

    This is probably my number two on the album. I loved it from the start and still think it sounds fantastic. To my ears, its lyrics might be the most visual of the album, which is saying a lot. All those little evocative details about Beale Street and Furray’s neighborhood, and her impressions of its heyday just put me right there.

    Until today, I didn’t know that Furray Lewis disliked this song so much and felt taken advantage of by her. That’s troubles me.

    Wikipedia: Lewis was displeased with Mitchell's unauthorized use of his name and "hated" the song.[22][23] He told Rolling Stone in February 1977: "She shouldn't have used my name in no way, shape, form or faction without consultin' me 'bout it first. The woman came over here and I treated her right, just like I does everybody that comes over. She wanted to hear 'bout the old days, said it was for her own personal self, and I told it to her like it was, gave her straight oil from the can."[23]

    I’m reminded of another line from the Paul Theroux book that I mentioned in the Hissing thread: "All travelers are voyeurs". I think that’s reinforced in parts of Hejira. I don’t see that as good or bad, just a fact.

    Experiencing to this album now is different than in the 70’s or 80’s. We didn’t have all this background info at our fingertips back then and one wasn’t likely to get into a detailed blow-by-blow analysis of every line along the artists motives, lifestyle, personal behavior, etc. In the old days when I listened I just took everything at face value, giving little thought to any of those things. Is it a dis-service to the music to scrutinize the background so much? I’m starting to wonder.

    Travel footnote: I did two long road trips through the Deep South in recent years. On the last one I spent a lot of time criss-crossing Mississippi, with a few days in Memphis at the end. Naturally, this song was sometimes in my head while walking around town. Beale Street has changed a lot since Joni’s visit and it’s feels fairly commercialized now but we heard fantastic music at night and I want to go back. Memphis and the whole Delta area are well worth a visit, especially if you enjoy blues, R&B, or jazz. Compared to the rest of America, Mississippi's a whole other world.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
  22. lschwart

    lschwart Senior Member

    Richmond, VA
    This is a really interesting mediation on some of the implications of the "pregnancy" reading of the "false alarm." I'm particularly grateful for the way you connect things back to "Coyote." I'm not sure, however, that it makes sense in relation to the rest of the song to imagine that the singer is addressing the child she has now discovered does not exist as Amelia. The figurative connection between the lost pilot and the false pregnancy are clear enough--just as the singer compares herself to Earhart both as a lonely, ambitious flier and as someone who had crashed (in her case into the arms of the lover who has now asked her to stay away--yet another crash). But I think the figure of Earhart has to remain herself to make sense of the string of apostrophes that structure the song (the addresses in the refrain). So, I think we're invited to connect the loss of Earhart to the other losses the song refers to, but I don't think we're invited to quite so far as to imagine the singer addressing her once-possible and now impossible daughter in those refrains.

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  23. bob_32_116

    bob_32_116 Forum Resident

    Perth Australia
    Furry Sings the Blues:

    I don't find this song out of place in any way. Nor is it one that stands out to me from the rest. It's just another excellent song, like most of the songs on this album.

    To my knowledge this is the second song Joni did about a fellow musician playing on the street. I have the feeling that this was something that preyed on her mind - the fact that some musicians, such as herself, find success and material comfort, sometimes even wealth, while others basically eke out a living playing "for free". Perhaps she even experiences a slight twinge of conscience. This is better articulated in the earlier song; she considers herself and the busker to both be worthy musicians, but only one of them gets to play for those velvet curtain calls.
  24. Socalguy

    Socalguy Forum Resident

    Furry Sings the Blues

    Ha... I’m guessing this one doesn’t show up on many “Favorite Joni Song” lists. But there’s a lot to like about it. Like PW, it’s grown on me over the years.

    As far as character portraits go, they don’t get much more brutally honest than this. Leave it to Joni not to pull any punches.

    Here she is on a road trip. She decides to roll her Benz through Memphis to check out the blues scene, to meet a real “roots” musician and hear some real “roots” music. Maybe learn something, get some insight. What she finds is a decrepit, decaying town and a crusty old coot who doesn’t like anybody delivering mostly sideshow schtick. The old guy couldn’t care less who she is.

    Pretty bleak picture. But she takes it in stride. “Why should I expect that old guy to give it to me true ... while our limo is shining on his shanty street?”

    Blues music never was her scene. She admits she doesn’t even know what WC Handy played. Ironic really, when you think about it.

    The arrangement is suitably low key, with a nice backstreet vibe. Neil does a surprisingly good job on harmonica.

    Overall, a nice little detour.
  25. DocBrown

    DocBrown Musical hermit of the frozen north

    Edmonton, Canada
    I can see why Furry Lewis didn't like this song; as an aging man (but not yet aged, as Furry was), I don't like being identified by my infirmities:

    Old Furry sings the blues
    Propped up in his bed
    With his dentures and his leg removed

    But I like the song. Vivid imagery and Neil's harmonica is more than just "surprisingly" good. That high, sweet counterpoint is what carries the song long after the guitars have had their say. And while Joni never played the blues, Ol' Shakey had a case of the blues from time to time.
    lschwart, gregorya, VU Master and 3 others like this.

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