Joni Mitchell: Hejira

Written by Karen Holvik

New England Conservatory, Voice Dept. Chair

In category: Song of the Day

Published November 29, 2017

So, Joni.  Her influence on my life is profound, and when I was asked to share five songs, I knew one would have to be Joni’s. The real challenge again was to choose only one song from her huge catalog. The first of her albums I encountered in my youth was Ladies of the Canyon, and it contains many of my favorites.  But as she released album after album, my list of favorites grew and grew until she finally ascended to a supreme position in my personal pantheon of best loved artists. Just as I had wanted to be Joan Baez back in the folk music days, later I wanted to be Joni Mitchell. She said everything I ever wanted to say much better than I could ever have said it. I never cease to marvel at her way with words, her melodic and harmonic ingenuity and her power to reach the hearts and souls of her audience. All this from a person who refers to herself as “a lonely painter” who lives “in a box of paints”, as she says in yet another of my favorite songs, “A Case of You”.

After weighing endless options, I finally flipped a coin and selected the title song from “Hejira”.  It’s vintage Joni and from the period just before her voice began to fray due to her obsessive love affair with American Spirit cigarettes. In this song we hear a very world weary Joni. The music is a simple but rich setting for the lyric—both brilliant and heartbreaking.

I’m traveling in some vehicle
I’m sitting in some café
A defector from these petty wars
That shell shock love away
There’s comfort in melancholy
When there’s no need to explain
It’s just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today
In our possessive coupling
So much cannot be expressed
So now I’m returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed
I see something of myself in everyone
Right at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a bridal girl

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or you stick to some straighter line
Now here’s a man and woman sitting on a rock
They’re either going to thaw out or freeze
Sounds like Benny Goodman
Floating through the snowy trees
I’m porous with travel fever
But I’m so glad to be on my own
Still, the slightest touch of a stranger
Sets up a trembling in my bones
But I know no one’s going to show me everything
We come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone

Well, I looked at the granite markers
Those tributes to finality – to eternity
Then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for a piece of immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There is the hope and hopelessness
I’ve witnessed all these years
We’re only particles of change – I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I’m bound and tied to someone
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of my hotel room

I’m traveling in some vehicle
I’m sitting in some café
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way

author: Karen Holvik

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Soprano Karen Holvik began her musical life in folk music, wishing she could be Joan Baez. She later spent ten years singing rock and jazz professionally before deciding to try the classical repertoire. After earning a master’s degree in vocal performance at the Eastman School of Music (where she also sang jazz), she settled in NYC and finally got serious about singing opera, oratorio and classical song. She was very active with NYFOS during its early years, and she appears on a NYFOS cd, Marc Blitzstein: Zipperfly & Other Songs with Steven Blier and baritone William Sharp. She now lives in Boston, where she is chair of the voice department at the New England Conservatory.


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