Thursday, September 1, 2011

A case of Joni Mitchell

Turn thou to me, and be gracious to me;
for I am lonely and afflicted.
 – Psalm 25:16
In a 1994 interview Joni Mitchell says:
"I've never been a feminist, because I believe in male-female relationships without apartheid. And I've never been a nihilist, because I continue to feel the heart is the healer."
She is the quintessential flower child of the 1960s. She still doesn't seem to understand the Pandora's box that was opened by the "sexual revolution".

She doesn't want to face the fact that she was used to drive forward the feminist, hedonist, nihilist culture that engulfs young people today. Like all of us, she is in need of repentance.

And she deserves our forgiveness for believing that this cultural revolution could be suspended at one innocent moment in time -- as if a delicate balance between God's commandments and the devil's temptations were possible.

This much I know. God will forgive her if she will set aside her foolish pride and go to confession. And deep down I'm sure Joni already knows that.



In the song "A case of you" Joni says:
I'm frightened by the devil
And I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid
Here we see her Christian roots, her fear of damnation and her struggle to "liberate" herself from those fears. It is the story of a generation, intoxicated by an excess of freedom.

This song seems to be about a lost lover, but I choose to interpret it as Joni's struggle with Christ. There are obvious allusions to Jesus in her lyrics:
Oh you're in my blood like holy wine
I don't know if Joni was raised Catholic. Her father was of Norwegian ancestry which would definitely tie her to the Protestant faith, but her mother was part Scottish and part Irish. So I don't know if her mother may have been brought up as a Catholic.

But how else could you interpret this line about "holy wine" except by the Catholic belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Christ enters into our bodies through the bread and wine of Holy Communion. He is in our blood.

The next line:
You taste so bitter and so sweet
seems to be drawn directly from the book of Revelation.
So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, "Take it and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth." And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. (Rev 10:9-10)
I never thought before about this passage referring to the Eucharist. But the words of the angel, "Take it and eat it" are similar to the words of the Catholic Mass:
Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my body which will be given up for you.
And then the angel says that it will taste sweet but be bitter in the stomach. Of course Joni could be thinking here of a "bitter sweet" love, but when taken together with the thought of Holy Wine it seems right to suppose she may have been alluding to the Holy Bread of life.

The most memorable lines for me from her song are these:
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 deeply religious quality of this song resounds in these lines. While Jesus never says, "love is touching souls", He does touch our souls when we believe in Him and have faith in His power to guide and direct us along our pilgrim journey to heaven. And He is the source of Living Water which "pours out of" those who have accepted His love.

In the beginning of the song we find Joni lost and dejected. I imagine her speaking to Jesus like a lover in the style of the Song of Songs but rather than embracing Him, she rejects Him.
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"
Doesn't "I am as constant as a northern star" sound like something that Jesus would speak to us in our souls? He is our guiding light. And only a cynical soul would respond by saying, "Sure, constantly in the darkness." How many who have rejected Christ have ended up "in the bar" -- slaves to alcohol and addiction?

The song ends with Joni meeting a woman. Could this be Mary, the Mother of Christ?
I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said
"Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed"
She looks like Him and knows His life. Who knew Christ better than His Mother Mary? And like Mary always does, she says "Go to him."

But be prepared to carry your Cross. "Be prepared to bleed." Be prepared to be a martyr if that is where your faith leads you.

By the grace of God Joni's song can become a catechism for the Catholic faith. Pray for Joni. Pray for all the lost souls who have wandered away from the flock and no longer hear the voice of their Lord calling.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us.

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Related articles:
(I'm slowly working on writing an article for each of the songs in Joni's Blue album.)

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Complete lyrics of "A Case of you"
© 1970 Joni Mitchell
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"

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
Still I'd be on my feet
oh I would still be on my feet

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

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
Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh I could drink a case of you darling
And I would still be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours
She knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds
And she said
"Go to him, stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed"

Oh but you are in my blood
You're my holy wine
You're so bitter, bitter and so sweet

Oh, I could drink a case of you darling
Still I'd be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

5 comments:

  1. I've been getting a lot of hits lately from people searching for the song "a case of you" because it was featured on an episode of the TV show Parenthood. The version that they used was a live cover by James Blake:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqY3VXi7hEc

    I personally much prefer Joni singing this song. I happened to listen to it on the headphones yesterday. It's mixed in a very 60's style with the dulcimer on the right and Joni's vocals in the center. In the beginning it sounds like the left channel is missing. But then the acoustic guitar kicks in when Joni moans "O Canada!" Yes, that's James Taylor doing his uniquely folk, finger-picking, bossa nova style. There is also a latin-style conga drum beat that can be heard faintly in the background.

    I wonder how many people are hearing this song for the first time. I hope they will take the time to listen to the whole Blue album. It is like a personal diary of the baby boom generation coming of age. So much potential for good, but ultimately a lost generation.

    I watched a little of this Parenthood episode just to check it out and see how they used the song. It's a nice enough show. Nothing really offensive. It's just that this is the public face of secular humanism. It's all good. Right? And no one gets really hurt -- except they do. It's empty and vacuous.

    That's what Joni captures so well -- unintentionally I'm sure. The emptiness, the pointlessness, the life without a purpose. It's expressed in a form of melancholy which is almost spiritual. But God is missing. That's where the emptiness comes from. It's an endless search for meaning and for love, which gets fulfilled temporarily by countless love affairs which ultimately never fulfill their initial promise of total bliss.

    It's not that "sadness is never ending, while happiness is fleeting" as we are told in the Brazilian bossa nova song "A felicidade". It's that the "happiness" that the humanists promise is an illusion. What we are searching for is "joy" which is found in the "living water" which Christ offers us. When we drink from that fountain then we will never thirst again. Yes, we will feel pain and suffering, but that is transformed into a gift of sharing in Christ's redemptive suffering.

    We are all God's children. He is waiting for us with open arms. It's our choice. It's never too late.

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  2. Here's a better version of James Blake singing "a case of you":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ri6bd4G-Aig

    And here's a link to the "forced family fun" episode of Parenthood. The song plays at the very end of the show.
    http://www.nbc.com/parenthood/video/forced-family-fun/1365637

    I pray for the day that TV shows earnestly try to include God in the programs. It doesn't have to be really overt. But it can't be the kind of denial that we are currently engaged in.

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  3. The first time I remember hearing "a case of you" was on Joni's live album -- "Miles of aisles":
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnykAmjpmDo

    It's an enchanting version with just Joni and her dulcimer before a live audience. This album is another must for Joni fans. It marks the end of her folk period and the beginning of her turning towards an abstract jazz style. It's typical of artists that are driven by the secular world to strive for novelty -- something new.

    Christianity is 2000 years old, but it is always new and refreshing.

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  4. Wow, what an amazing interpretation of these lyrics. Especially the last part about Mary. Now hearing "Go to Him" brings tears to my eyes.

    My favorite version of this song is by Ann Hampton-Callaway. Unfortunately, I can't find it on Youtube, but it's on I-Tunes and Rhapsody.

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  5. Dear RA,

    Thank you for your comment. I really used to love Joni Mitchell. I still have a sweet spot in my heart for her. Pray for her because she is struggling with her faith.

    I think of Joni as a bridge between a time when our culture was immersed in Christianity -- fed from the pure spring of Christ's love for us. Now we have gone the opposite direction and are submerged in secularism -- drowning and dying.

    I think of Joni as almost having sacrificed herself as a victim in a black mass. I imagine that there were many men in her life that took advantage of her and robbed her of the innocence which shines through in her lyrics. Like so many of us she was enchanted by the promises of romanticism -- a secular romanticism, because I think there is also an authentic Christian romanticism. Secular romanticism leads us to a culture of lust, but Joni could not have known where the powerful forces which she unleashed would lead. It is the story of a whole generation which fell victim to sexual temptations.

    Treasure those tears, they are the rain that waters the garden of faith. Saint Teresa of Ávila describes "dry" periods in her prayer life. I picture it like crossing a desert. In those times we don't share that intense emotional closeness to God, but if we persevere in our love for God then the rewards are great and we will find that we have grown spiritually. Our garden can reach maturity as its roots tap into the deeper waters of the Holy Spirit which never fail -- even during the most severe spiritual droughts.

    Yours in Christ,
    Michael

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