Saturday, February 13, 2010

Joni Mitchell, The Opening Ceremonies, and a Moment of Grace

Many of Canada's most treasured musical artists were represented at last night's Olympic Opening Ceremonies.  In particular, k.d. lang's interpretation of Leonard Cohen's "Alleluia" was a lovely and powerful collaboration between an effortless voice crying out a haunting, emotional, poetic tune. 

During the program a thought occurred:  how fitting it would be if another of Canada's musical treasures, Joni Mitchell, had been invited to perform.  Almost at that moment, as the wonderful young aerialist and Ècole nationale de cirque student, Thomas Saulgrain, began to run, and then "fly", over golden fields, the arena was filled with Joni's deep, resonant, mature voice,with a song she had written and performed 40 years before, "Both Sides Now". 

It came together in a performance of such delicacy: the benevolent voice and sweeping orchestra, conferring a benediction on all, a fitting tribute to the stark beauty of the Canadian landscape, to the eager purity of the solo young performer, and to the athlete whose life had been cut short. 

The lyrics are perfection....visionary...a girl's innocent contemplation of clouds; a budding young lady and her thoughts on love; and the mature woman's wise and world-weary look back on life. Three phases of life are condensed in a poem of great efficiency and imagery.  There is the reassuring acceptance of the possibility that what we know may be an illusion after all, and that we always have a lot more to learn.  

I have included two video versions of  Joni Mitchell performing her masterpiece.  First, in 1970, the girlish woman showing promise as a mature writer and performer:

The second video is the version heard at the Opening Ceremonies, Joni's live performance in 2007, a venerable artist in complete command of her craft and her audience, giving an entirely appropriate, melancholy yet hopeful rendition of the song before an appreciative crowd.

I have nothing but admiration for her talent with words and melodies, her intimate delivery, and her consummate understanding of the human heart and the world around her.  More than any other contemporary artist, Joni Mitchell makes me feel better about myself and my capacity as a creative human being.

Her accompaniment of that young man at the Opening Ceremonies was, in itself, a perfection, a beauty, a pure moment filled with grace.


  1. I bought the album "Blue" by Joni back in 1971. Have always been a big fan of hers. I thought that was the best part of the opening ceremonies.

  2. I'm bummed that I missed the opening ceremonies, but I'll catch it later online I'm sure. This is such a great song and it's performed so well. I like the 2000 version very much.

    If you want to hear this song from a different perspective, there's always the version done by Leonard Nimoy! LOL!

    Great post Tom as always!