There are worse things than lying in an MRI tube, I know, but while you’re frozen in place, forbidden to move, and your nose itches and your foot goes into a gnarled cramp, a dentist’s chair or an Indian sweat lodge or maybe even chewing your way through several layers of drywall start looking like better alternatives.
I was having not one, not two, but three separate scans, so I spent an hour + in the tube. If you’ve never had an MRI before, the thing you need to know (besides the fact that if you have a tattoo, I believe your skin may very well catch on fire from what the tech told me) is that the procedure is very, very, very LOUD. Clanging, jack-hammery and buzzing like a two-ton hornet loud. So, so loud.
The clinic where I had my MRI done has rigged up a system that allows you to listen to music through headphones during the procedure. Kind of. If you really want to hear the music over the clanging and buzzing and jack-hammering, you have to turn the volume up to an unsafe decibel level, but it’s a nice gesture on their part. The young tech told me that since they have the system hooked up to Pandora I could listen to anything I wanted. Who would you pick to be inside your head during the hour you spent inside that tube?
My spur-of-the-moment choice was the iconic Joni Mitchell, because really, in a crisis, who else is there?
Imagine my surprise – no, really, shock – when the tech furrowed her 20-something brow and said, “Who?”
SHE HAD NEVER HEARD OF JONI MITCHELL!
Joni’s “official” web site provides only a few terse lines about her, saying that she “has crafted an extraordinary body of work spanning more than 40 years and is widely regarded as one of the brightest musical lights of recent generations”. This description, in my opinion, is a gross understatement because it does not include the words “genius” or “astonishing” or even “awe-inspiring”. Yes, I know that there are people who liken the sound of Joni’s voice to that of a blade saw, but even they have to concede that she is one of the greatest lyricists of our time. (And yes, Young Radiology Tech, that’s YOUR time, too – look her up!)
The word is that Joni never cashed in the way other musicians did and that her earnings are modest compared to many of her peers. Joni has led a mostly private life for someone of her stature, and maybe that’s part of the trade-off. Rolling Stone has done a serviceable biography of her on their web site.
If you order up the Joni channel on Pandora, you get a motley string of other artists deemed to be “like” her. It’s important to realize that no one is “like” her, despite the occasional comparison of an emerging waifish singer who writes lyrics that don’t rhyme. Or with an oldster who happened to be penning songs during the height of her fame. James Taylor is not like Joni. Nor is Carol King. And, while I appreciate why some would try to connect the dots from the talented Tori Amos to Joni, it’s still not a match.
No one combines the sophistication of melody and lyrics as masterfully as she has. And no, not Bob Dylan, either. I give him his due, but some of his best lyrics and melodies were lifted rather conveniently from sources so obscure it took decades to figure out that it was not his own work. And he didn’t really have much success in his efforts to move beyond his folk roots. No one but Joni has moved as seamlessly from “folk” to jazz. A truly great recent tribute in the latter genre is Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-award-winning River: The Joni Letters.
Here’s a luminous Joni from 1970:
When my boys were young, I sang them to sleep nearly every night with The Circle Game, one of the sweetest songs Joni ever penned. I seriously can’t listen to it now without tearing up, but it’s worth a good cry just to hear it:
I pity that poor radiology tech who has lived twenty-some years without Joni in her life, but hopefully the rest of you will go directly to iTunes and download a boatload of Joni. It will make me happy, and I’m guessing Joni wouldn’t mind, either.
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round In the circle game