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.

These people are smiling. Right, it's just a barrel of fun. Don't believe them. (image from

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.

Ouch! Loud! (image from

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?”


The young Joni (image from

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!)

I don’t even have to bring out the big guns of Both Sides Now or Blue or Woodstock . Just allow yourself to be blown away by the haunting beauty of Let the Wind Carry Me or For the Roses

"For the Roses" album cover (image from

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.

Did I mention that she also paints? She's done the artwork for her many album covers.'

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

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
This entry was posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Joni

  1. CE says:

    Trying desparately to see the connection between a thumping MRI machine and Joni’s sweet voice, but cannot come up with it.

    Best concert we ever attended was hers at the SB County bowl, back in the day. Genius not too strong of a word………for a SINGER (inside joke)

    • polloplayer says:

      It was actually “hero”, not genius. “Singers cannot be heroes” said the CE until he saw Joni in all her glory at the concert that was ultimately included in the Miles of Aisles concert, at which moment he was converted for life.

      There was a segue from MRI to Joni. Weak, maybe, but it’s there.

  2. Katherine says:

    So… can you listen to heavy metal in the MRI?

  3. That song brings back so many memories, but the first one that comes to mind is driving to Borego with Taylor strapped in his car seat in the minivan and you humming us all to sleep. Thanks Joni, and thanks pollo for being such a selfless parent to all of us ‘chics’. Off to iTunes. I could use a dose of Joni these days.

  4. Anne says:

    We are living parallel lives. Just had an MRI (actually twice) for a right shoulder ‘issue.’
    Joni is a regular on Pandora……

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