This is the only song of Joni’s I learned to play on guitar - For the Roses. It popped into my head this morning. I made a rudimentary version in standard tuning and sang it to myself in my wee house by the Thames river in London, Ontario in 1973.. The lyric, so storied and carrying a deep understanding of where she was in time, moved me and warned me and carried me further into my dream of being in that spotlight. I felt I was born for the stage and Joni was leading the way. Instinctively, I knew the only way through to a deeper understanding of my own needs as a writer was to go through Joni. I had to go through her, not around her. I sang along with her and found my voice. I can remember being told derisively by a popular male songwriter who came through the wee club I waitressed in, the club where I first sang on stage, “You sound just like Joni Mitchell”, as if it was a bad thing; as if I should stop; as if I was doomed to be derivative and second-rate. As hurtful as that was, his was a voice I never wanted to emulate and it was a superficial wound... I kept singing, adding voices to my record collection, singing along, letting the good stuff stick to me without really knowing what I was listening for other than a depth of character in them that would take me deeper into myself, I suppose: Laura Nyro, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Cleo Laine, Astrid Gilberto, Bonnie Raitt, Beverly Glenn Copeland, Sarah Vaughan, Nick Drake, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Paul Williams, Big Mama Thornton, Jim Morrison, Joe Cocker, Mireille Mathieu, Shelby Flint... Crikey, I absorbed so many great singers and songs but it started with Joni Mitchell’s album ‘Song to a Seagull’ a record my brother owned. From ‘67 through to Court and Spark in ‘74, I absorbed her work. My fascination wavered after that, but my gratitude for her brilliance and vision and tenacity has no bounds.
Whaddaya do when you’ve got a song to learn that’s keeping you awake nights? You write to the uber talented Suzie LeBlanc and ask her if there’s any chance she’ll be in the vicinity so you can study with her and you find out that she’ll be nearby in Lunenburg. Hallelujiah! We made an app’t for this morning. (A wee sampling of her gift: http://smcq.qc.ca/smcq/en/video/1392)
Yesterday, learning the venue had to change, lo and behold, for a reasonable fee David Findlay offered up his fabulous, wee studio in L’burg for the hour-and-a-bit we needed this morning. Very last minute. I recommend you get in touch with him should the need arise. (https://www.davidfindlaymusic.com/). Affable, even within the ungodly hour of 9am, there’s much to love about him and his place of business. He even offered to record the session, too, but it was 9:45am... Suzie was brilliant to work with, as I knew she would be. (Oh, her lucky students at McGill https://www.mcgill.ca/music/suzie-leblanc) Thank you to both she and David for helping me to expand my horizons as a vocalist. Hooray! Now, it’s practice, practice, practice, which I do in my car. That’s another story...
To answer a question from my friend, Joella, about any differences in ‘feeling’ for me between songwriting and creating visual art.Read Now
Joella, I’d say that, superficially, songwriting would appear to be a ‘thinking’ endeavor. However, words that simply drive ideas without having emotion in the passenger seat aren’t much use poetically, so both songwriting and visual art take me out of my thinking self into the realm of feeling. I am guided by a deeper ‘me’.
I remember once ‘coming to’, as if from a dream, whilst in the middle of creating a piece of visual art... I was startled by the realization that I was in the same place songs come from! Yes, it did seem like a real ‘place’ - a place I’d been longing for as I’d not been able to compose. It was so comforting to find another route ‘in’. To say I cherish my times creating is an understatement as both forms are deeply satisfying.
Expressing the who, what, when,where and why of life takes reflection but at the same time, for me at least, seems to require one work only in the present tense, guided by a connection to everyone else in this world to achieve, a satisfying outcome. Anything else is just accounting.
I’d have to add that creating art in any of it’s myriad forms is not for sissy’s who are afraid of being alone with themselves, which is why, in my opinion, the making and celebration of art must be encouraged and fostered and protected by society: (So, no mystery to me why some of the frightened people in power on this planet want to strip funding to the arts). To evolve and express my own vantage point while also situating myself squarely in my time in this world is something I aspire to even as my work as a songwriter continues to be bound by my tiny world view (and by my fears, truth be told, a subject for another day), despite my lofty goals. Meanwhile, my visual art gives me a sense of being fearless and feeds my desire to be braver with words.
Thanks so much for asking the question, Joella. I’ve enjoyed thinking through my answer to you.
Below is the wee Dear Merebeth ‘painting’ I’d done (I paint using digital apps) and posted on Facebook which prompted the query...
Being able to attend a concert at L.A.M.P. last night with the great Latvian violinist Gidon Kremer, cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, and pianist, Walter Delahunt was an extraordinary bit of luck (thank you, Jules Chamberlain!). Beethoven's Triple Concerto Op.56 arranged by Carl Reinecke was extraordinary and stood out in an evening of excellence. It was one of the greatest exercises in listening I’ve ever had given my seat, as you can see... I closed my eyes and it was the violinist, the cellist, the pianist and me. Oh, and the dog, Israel, ever patiently waiting under the piano throughout. No kidding. For a surprise encore, Maestro Kremer invited out his students lucky enough to study with him this past week. They played Astor Piazzolla’s ‘Oblivion’. It was gorgeous. I so hope they make a recording of their trio...
The lesson I learned long ago - that the only way to preserve and expand whatever energy I do have is by giving it away - was celebrated bigtime this weekend when I did three shows in two days: Two wonderful audiences on Saturday and Sunday night at The Lansdowne Concert Series in Fredericton and again Sunday afternoon at Second Wind Music up in Florenceville-Bristol. Still, I must take special care not to book three shows on a weekend when the time changes again... I’m still in my jammies and might not get up ‘til tomorrow.
The first in a series of writings under the banner ‘Of a morning’... I may include images I’ve created...Read Now
Patience rewarded me eventually with an understanding of how resistant I am to being held to a standard of solemnity carried with cleverly measured words. Even if poetic, they register with me as an affront of ideas substituting for grief - ideas I can’t respond to despite how much someone wants me to feel the way they do. An illusion of camaraderie worded in place with a self-satisfying, punishing rhetoric could be so much more effective if abandoned completely and re-written as song. Without rhythm and music, some ideas are simply bossy, churlish instructions on how to behave.
I couldn't be more excited about launching this website today. With the help of Meg Craig and Skysail Brand in Mahone Bay, I was taught to navigate Weebly and create my own page. There's tons more to learn... Thanks to my fans for their patience as I got this together. I would be remiss if I didn't thank Bob MacIsaac of Chester, NS who created my first website, laurasmith.ca, now routed here. He was infinitely patient with me through the years... Thanks for bringing me into cyberspace, Bob.
My friend, Hanna Hunziker took photos during my performance. Bruce Guthro wouldn't let me leave the stage 'til I sang not one, not two, but three more songs. Bless his heart. And thank you. I was delighted to be a part of a stellar roster of performers in such a gorgeous setting as Jost Winery.
It was a stellar night with Bruce Guthro and Gowan and Dave Sampson at Bruce's Song Circle event. (Dave was camera shy).
Bruce , quite rightly, gave the nod to Gowan to sing the encore. Honestly, to be sitting next to him when he performed "A Criminal Mind" with such gusto and panache was awesome. I leapt to my feet while onstage to participate in his Standing O. The last time I did that was after hearing Paul Kelly sing "How to Make Gravy" on a workshop stage at The Edmonton Folk Festival. While I have a long-standing policy not to applaud my fellow musicians while I'm onstage with them - I do feel that is the audience's job - when I'm moved to leap up and clap, I try to get off the stage and become a member of the audience. Happily in Edmonton, the stage was low to the ground. No such luck at The Casino, so, apologies to the folks in the audience when I blocked their view...
Here he is doing it live with Styx. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDFjaIlp74A. Here's Paul Kelly https://youtu.be/qDROmHCBk5Q