How could a live take of one of the most beloved tracks ever be even better than the original?
One thing I hate about Spotify is the codec they use, it just doesn’t sound that good, the old MP3s in my iTunes library encoded at 128 kbps are superior, and so is Deezer Elite, just relabeled Deezer HiFi.
We keep hearing we can’t hear the difference. But I can. Instantly. When I listen to Deezer HQ (high quality, i.e. CD quality) the music opens up, it’s like removing steel wool from your goggles, the world goes from black and white to Technicolor. I’m a big believer that music sounds like it does because of the reproduction methods we employ. Hell, Beats headphones are made to emphasize the bass, how messed up is that? Whereas in the seventies the goal was to earn/save up enough money to get full-spectrum speakers. Maybe KLH, maybe their predecessor AR, maybe Henry Kloss’s marvelous later iteration, the Advent, which only cost $125 apiece but sounded so accurate or maybe the much more expensive JBL L100, the same speaker they used in studios. You wanted to get closer to the music, now it just washes over you, after pounding your eardrums.
Now one of the things we’ve lost on the way to legitimacy is all the unreleased material that surfaced in the Napster era, live cuts, alternative takes, that will now be buried forever. Today’s ethos is different, acts release all their crap, but way back when you held it back, and now nobody wants to hear it, that’s what they say, but that’s untrue, I do. And I still can, on Deezer HiFi.
You see they’ve got all the bootlegs and radio broadcasts that are illegal over here, maybe there, in Deezer’s homeland France, too, but there are different copyright laws, the term is not as long, but the truth is if you dial up your favorite sixties and seventies acts on Deezer you’ll find a cornucopia of live stuff that’ll titillate you. By Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt, everybody plying the boards back then. Hell, I’ve never ever heard a live version of “Lafayette Railroad,” but last night I did, and it brought me back to listening to “Dixie Chicken” in the spring of ’73.
When I was listening to “For The Roses.”
My college roommate had “Blue,” we played it occasionally sophomore year. But I controlled the stereo, and you don’t really know an album unless you own it, after you’ve paid for it you ply the grooves until you extract all the essence.
And everybody knew who Joni Mitchell was, but it wasn’t until “Ladies Of The Canyon” that she started to have mainstream impact. And if you don’t know “Conversation” and “Rainy Night House” you’re in for a treat.
But this is not about them.
This is about “A Case Of You,” a song even Prince covered, even though it was not a hit, not a single song from “Blue” was a hit, but the LP’s a classic, as I tell everybody, if I were stranded on a desert island I’d want AC/DC’s “Back In Black”…
And Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.”
And of course I’m saying that for effect, I’d want more, but the point is my tastes are broad, and no record touches the soul like “Blue.”
And the best song on “Blue” is “A Case Of You.”
Just before our love got lost you said
‘I am as constant as a northern star’
And I said ‘Constantly in the darkness
Where’s that at?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar
Strong women. Now they’re seen as Sheryl Sandbergs, winners doing everything, but in the mind of men it’s someone who can dish it back, who thinks for themself, who is not beholden to male-dominated culture, only a doofus would not follow Joni into the bar. We’ve heard too much of rap-era songs, about women being ho’s and kicking them to the curb, whereas a strong woman kicks YOU to the curb. She’s independent, she’s self-motivated.
Like Joni Mitchell.
On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
These are the lines that go through my brain whenever I reflect on our northern neighbor, which I do quite often, because Canada is the anti-America, a place where everybody is well-informed and has an opinion and is willing to express it. I don’t know what makes Canadians so talkative, maybe it’s the cold, the sparse population, but they’re the most vocal of English-speaking peoples, and it’s welcoming and comforting.
Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Relationships. Either you’ve been in one or you’re afraid of them. That’s right, so many hold back, they don’t want to share, they’re afraid they’re going to lose something, never be able to return to themselves. And they’re right, but the benefits far outweigh the losses. People change you, you bond and when you disconnect you feel like you’ve lost half of you and it takes years to recover, if you ever do.
Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
Oh, I would still be on my feet
WHAT A METAPHOR! That’s what makes Joni Mitchell great, she doesn’t bend the words to fit the song, but vice versa, she knows what she’s gonna say and she does. She’s from Canada, where drinking is part of the national fabric, after all you buy your suds from the BEER STORE! And a case would normally put anybody but the most unrepentant alcoholic under the table, but when you’re in love, biology and physics don’t apply, like those people pumped up on adrenaline who lift cars when their children are under them, when you’re in love you can perform feats no normal person is able to.
Oh, I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I’m frightened by the devil
And I’m drawn to those ones that ain’t afraid
VULNERABILITY! We’re all imperfect, but we’re trained not to show it, especially men. But here’s this strong woman, standing up for herself, who’s revealing her weaknesses and is simultaneously asking for help. We need other people, no matter how much we deny this. What draws us to other people? We’re not sure…
I remember that time you told me you said
‘Love is touching souls’
Surely you touched mine
‘Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time
The best definition of love I know. It didn’t come from a movie, a TV show, not even a book, but a record. When done right, that’s what love is, touching souls. The energy is palpable, the experience changes you, and suddenly the other person is inside you, you start wearing what they do, saying what they do, acting like they do, and you don’t even notice it, but you’re all right with it because you feel alive in a way you never did when you were alone.
You can talk about the Beatles and the Stones. Michael Jackson and the Eagles. But no discussion of musical greats is complete without inclusion of Joni Mitchell. She was not a studio concoction, she wrote and sang, and played too, and that’s what she’s doing here, in this revelatory performance. It’s just her, no backing tracks, no auto-tune, nothing but naked humanity.
And although you won’t find this take on Spotify or Apple, Amazon either, you can still hear it on YouTube, where so many but not enough of the old Napster nuggets are still buried. And when you hear it you’ll be transfixed. The studio version of “A Case Of You” is perfect, but the live iteration is somehow beyond that, Joni is more passionate while being more studied and you think you’re peering into someone’s…
That’s why music was so big back then. Not because of sleekness. But because the writers were laying it all down, their lives, we couldn’t get any closer.
But somehow we’ve lost that elixir. Everything’s bulletproof, everything’s about success, everything’s about the money. But somehow Joni Mitchell exists in a rarefied atmosphere that’s more appealing than all of it.
I could drink a case of Joni Mitchell and still be on my feet.
And so could you.
Joni Mitchell – 1983 Budokan Hall, Tokyo – YouTube
(start at 29:30)