A Case of You

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The way it starts. With an ending. Just before our love got lost. We have all been here: the wit of welcome. But the voice, shattered, early morning. A rasp. Nothing left to give. (The whole point.) Then Canada. O Canada. A moment of pure release, luxuriating in the extended vowels – hymn to landscape, a horizon I do not know but now image because of this voice. Just a nudge on the gas, nothing more, exquisite. In my blood like holy wine, sung with exhaustion, not celebration.

The pressure on the word lonely. This has been felt. Love is touching souls? An angel begins to climb the stairs, looking forward to what might be up there. You’re in my blood, now with a bit more purpose. I still don’t believe she’d still be on her feet. She’s saying it to be truthful to the idea (what you do in a cover: stick to the script) of faithfulness, of hanging in there, of showing up.

I met a woman. She knew your deeds. Deeds. An entire history of untold stories and unmentionable betrayals. Deeds. What we do to each other. When we want to, when we don’t. When we’re looking, when the other is looking the other way. Intentional? There are no accidents. She knows what she’s doing. She knew your deeds. And now we do, too.

Go with it and stay with it. Joni sings him. The difference is? The difference! kd. The twist. The gauntlet thrown down. Have you any idea what you are letting yourself in for, this thing, this horse ride rollercoaster lifeboat rising tide called love. Have you? Any idea whatsoever?

Be prepared to bleed. A friend said that to me once. Her kitchen, not mine. Papers between us. Sunlight. The last time I saw her, thin, knowing she had months. Her cancer and mine. Be prepared to bleed. She finished the quote for me. She knew everything, had read and listened to it all.

You’re in my blood like holy wine. This third time holy is extended, a howl, possibilities of God, sex, rawness and The End collapsing into each other. Wine no longer whines but is triumphant. An explosion. In that kitchen I said: This is my chemo-hymn. You’re so bitter, baby, and so sweet. The insertion of baby, this last time round. She loved that, taking something out of context and twisting it, making it into something else entirely which has nothing to do with anything except itself, a universe only you walk in, private and unsullied. Desire. Release. Healing. Collapse.

I could not listen to it for months.

For months it had been there and now I could not bear it. It came on in a car park once. I had to call my counsellor. Tears in Aisle 7, with the dishwasher tablets, for no reason, out of nowhere.

I could drink. The voice cracking on I.

The cracked I. Cracked and collapsed. Singing.

Rejoicing.

Healed.

13 comments

  1. Fiona Quilty

    ‘Tears in Aisle 7, with the dishwasher tablets, for no reason, out of nowhere.’
    It’s the heartbeat in the song.

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  2. sharonmccallum

    Wow, I haven’t read anything, ever, about this beautiful song as moving and as heart-breaking as this. This has turned my morning into a glitter-ball. Thank you.

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  3. Rob Miles

    But ‘…drawn to those ones who ain’t afraid.’

    I was always surprised that (of all people) Camille Paglia chose ‘Woodstock’ over this for her analysis of Mitchell as lyricist-poet. It is all-encompassing.

    She’s still living in a box of paints. I’m sure this song is as much about the attempt to meaningfully express the experience (‘on the back of a cartoon coaster’) as the experience itself, as Hugo Williams says of the successful poem, it is ‘the journey and the there’.

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    • charlieirvine

      Yes, it’s difficult to be balanced and critical about something so exquisite. What does great music do to great poetry? Is it music or poetry? My friend Rory Butler posed the question “what if we presented song lyrics in a beautifully printed poetry book?” Would they seem different? Be revealed for how shallow they are? And now I wonder in reverse: what if we sang poetry? As you pick out so well Anthony, with Joni the music, voice and meaning are sensually entwined, conjoined and inseparable.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you so much for this. I did not know the Paglia piece (and will hunt it down).
      Nor the Hugo Williams quote. Yes, that’s it.
      In a way the song is a kind of parable of the paradox of creativity -it’s just a cartoon coaster, after all, but because the conditions appear frivolous, it seems to allow her freedom to raise the stakes.
      Thank you, as ever
      Anthony

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      • Rob Miles

        Hi Anthony, for ref, the (equally infuriating/enlightening, always interesting) Camille Paglia chapter on Mitchell is in Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World’s Best Poems: ISBN-13: 978-0375725395.

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  4. Rob Miles

    I always feel there is nothing wrong with crediting someone as a truly great lyricist. Full stop. Song lyrics have their own constraints and challenges in relation to added music and ‘poetic’ is just one way we might describe or praise them – but the poeticality and extricability from the music should not be the yardstick. Some of Mitchell’s do simply stand up on the page (and almost walk off) but as she’s said in various interviews herself, she is not actually that fond of page poetry although she has ventured into Yeats and elsewhere.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you -again.
      I’m divided. On the one hand I know ‘one thing is not another thing.’
      It’s a poem. It’s a song. It’s both. It can’t be both.
      On the other I have no problem with the idea of the song achieving the condition of the poem.
      But I still think of it as a song.
      I don’t know. I experience them both them as experience. Tiny electric shocks of pleasure going off all over my brain as I listen and/or read.
      As ever with thanks
      Anthony

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  5. Jeff Schwaner

    You can’t really compare a bass line to a guitar riff to a drum track to a vocal track, even though together they might get you “Ramble On” and haunt your every autumn. But you don’t compare song lyric and poem lyric here, you play them together, and the result is a song of its own.

    Beautiful and moving transformation up above this reply, Anthony. And I don’t know if you’re quoting something else here, but “a universe only you walk in, private and unsullied” is my favorite line of this piece. That is keen in a way that few things are keen–sharp, deep, painful, joyous.

    (Apologies for offending anybody by putting Zepp in a Joni Mitchell context. But they do the trick for me, too, in a wider way.)

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Jeff.
      Thanks so much for this. I’m not a great Zepp expert (no older brother to show me the way) -but I know exactly the feeling you describe.
      I’m glad you liked the universe line. I thought of it all by myself -and nearly got rid of it.
      As ever with thanks
      Anthony

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