In 1974, Joni Mitchell’s transition from folky, “girl-with-guitar” solo performance to smooth jazz stylings was viewed by some as an apostasy, similar to the way folk fans viewed Dylan’s “plugging-in” to electric rock and roll a decade prior. Even so, Mitchell’s Court and Spark accomplishes a lot of what Didion’s Play It as It Lays accomplishes: it follows a young woman’s travels in a LA scene rife with cynicism, toxicity, and bad behavior, and it shows what kind of emotional armor is necessary to survive in such a world. Similarly, Mitchell is a wonderful user of language, whether she’s being stood up on a date (“Car on a Hill”), scoping a bar for a lover during last call (“Down to You”), or abandoning a love interest in Berkeley because she’s drawn to the City of the Fallen Angels (“Court and Spark”). Mitchell traced similar themes on her highly acclaimed album Blue (1971), but the pop cheesiness of Court and Spark was, perhaps, a better context for her personal revelations. Compare Mitchell and Didion as they voice women’s concerns in postmodern Los Angeles. Which concerns are still relevant, fifty years later?
(Blue and Court and Spark are available on Spotify and You Tube; song lyrics also available online)