Joni Mitchell Returns, Clarifies Dylan Comments

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joni mitchell bob dylan roger mcguinn

Joni Mitchell doesn’t really like interviews. They take too long. They focus too heavily on her Blue period. And sometimes, they wind up pissing off millions of Bob Dylan fans.

“The interviewer was an asshole.” That’s a new quote from Mitchell, who recently sat down with CBC to clear up the whole Dylan thing. In case you haven’t been keeping up, a 2010 article by The Los Angeles Times quoted Mitchell as saying some naughty things about her fellow folkie. “Bob is not authentic at all,” she supposedly stated. “He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.” Dylan never issued an official response, but his fans lashed out. Some of them pointed to the number of times Mitchell had joined Dylan onstage throughout her career. Others posted YouTube links to her live performances of old Dylan classics like “Girl From the North Country” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

(In the same interview, Joni Mitchell also called out Grace Slick and Janis Joplin for “sleeping with their whole bands and falling down drunk.” She was on a roll that day! But we digress.)

In her recent sit-down with CBC, Mitchell didn’t exactly apologize for her remarks. Instead, she turned her anger toward L.A. Times author Matt Diehl, claiming the journalist had misconstrued her words. “I hate doing interviews with stupid people, and this guy’s a moron,” she said. As for Dylan, she added, ““I like a lot of Bob’s songs, though musically he’s not very gifted. He’s borrowed his voice from old hillbillies. He’s got a lot of borrowed things. He’s not a great guitar player. He’s invented a character to deliver his songs. Sometimes I wish that I could have that character — because you can do things with that character. It’s a mask of sorts.”

What do you think? Can you drive a big yellow taxi through the holes in Joni’s argument, or does she have a point? Weigh in!

65 COMMENTS

  1. Jazz purists are just the lowest form of human life. And for a woman who hasn’t made a superb album since Hejira she should effing talk. By the way, simple doesn’t mean bad. And ‘complex’ doesn’t guarantee good. I’ll listen to the great albums, but I have no more respect or fellow feeling for Ms Mitchell.

  2. I’m surprised that Joni doesn’t realize that it’s impossible as a performer not to do these very things. Indeed, she does the same.

    When you perform, you’re always putting on a mask and inventing a character. Even if they’re not consciously doing it, the performer that’s on stage will act differently than they will if they’re eating dinner in solitude in their home. It’s a social act.

    So the fact that Bob put on a folkie persona actually says something about his genuine character. In other words, would Bob be more ‘real’ for not inventing a persona even though that was his artistic vision? I think to refrain from pursuing that vision because it wasn’t the way you were born is a little less genuine. Nobody’s born playing guitar, styling their hair, or wearing leather jackets either.

    And I think how well the man plays guitar is irrelevant if the song doesn’t suffer for it.

    • Very good points about artistic vision and performance. And I don’t think anyone cares how well Dylan plays guitar. I do think, though, that when a persona is crafted around what is actual – the working man’s struggles, or actual political events, etc., the social/performative act you talk about becomes very personal and real. In other words, if a performer’s “brand” is authenticity, it’s fair to ask whether it really is authentic. Obviously Dylan is the epitome of authenticity to some, but apparently not for all.

      • Very nice response Kristy. Although, I think Bob Dylan is a songwriter first, (just writing a story) same as a novelist. We
        haven’t heard Bob’s take on his authenticity towards his songs.
        Personally, I don’t think Bob’s brand is authenticity as much as
        it is just crafting a song. I love Joni Mitchell who I think is a genius
        of the craft of songwriting. I especially love the lyric to the “Urge For Going”. Joni’s imagery cannot be surpassed as a songwriter. I think
        she is a poet, but she might not agree.

    • Words First! Without a message, a song is bad no matter how well it is played and delivered. I remember a moment in my life when time just stopped. I was walking down a street, in a San Francisco, when I came up on a white haired black man sitting on the stoop of his flat. He was picking his homemade cigar box guitar using a slide made from a plastic bic lighter. His voice was scratchy and he mumbled his words. Yet the pain of that song, the words, haunt me to this day. When he was finished, he looked up at me through whited out cataract eyes and smiled, showing his loose and missing teeth, and gave a little chuckle. I smiled back at him through the clear blue eyes of my youth, and I gave him a squint and a nod of acknowledgment, to which he answered with a slight bobb of his head in the yes gesture. I knew that I’d witnessed greatness, and he knew that I’d felt his message. Like I said, WORDS FIRST! Dylon still dominates to this day because of the words he wrote. Joni had some good words too. In this new music industry, where the artists are picked up for their looks, voices made pitch perfect by vocalizers, bands put together by major labels, the songwriter has drifted almost into oblivion. Songs are not memorable anymore. Save for the occasional Mraz etc. There are social media sites where you can experience all levels of music, where you can hear unbelievable songs from unknown artists, and get your fix. That is where I spend most of my time when I am not writing songs. I love to hear what others are doing. And I’ve never minded if it was chicken scratch, as long as the WORDS rang true! So, last word, The Words have it! The messenger is still, just a messenger!!!

      • wow Fame is elusive
        also the celebrated artist s machine is waning a bit and the fan fare of loving thyself to be true is changing
        look at the accessability to the net and the connections we all make now
        my how we have have grown
        we can see into personas
        we kept a safe distance real music is always at its root
        and basic folk is not high end classical playing ……
        doubt the musicianship of any era beats out the other Pop is Pop and is highly acclaimed by the Masses
        if a song be found in the wind or a cigar box so be it
        but the classics are not as thick in the poetry of some songwriting ….the times they will always be a changing …

    • She has shown herself to be quite the egotist over time, and in this recent interview she is wearing her jealousy on her sleeve. In the past, her statements made me question ego itself and I ultimately decided that she earned a pass. This takes the cake though. Unnecessarily bashing a peer that has a bit more fame and adulation than you – someone that you are obviously jealous of – is just pathetic.

  3. Joni tells it like it is. This isn’t the first male musician she’s called out. Jackson Browne got her rath accusing him of driving his first wife to suicide. Let’s not put these entertainers on pedestals. They are human like us all that have a gift. I don’t have unreasonable expectations of famous people.

  4. Did Joni ever consider the fact that BD has managed to re-invent himself so often since his first incarnation over 50 years ago when he arrived in NYC? He has managed to give voice to the various strands which lie/lay hidden within his musical DNA and has been good enough to share the results with us. Some of it has been patchy but most of it has been good. To say that “musically he’s not very gifted” is to simply not appreciate the artistry of what he does to his own compositions when he performs them live. DyIan is a magpie; I salute the magpie. I still love you though, Joni!

  5. I find it bizarre how offended so many are by this – it’s just one person’s opinion, expressed honestly. There’s no law in place stipulating that Joni Mitchell – or anyone, really! – must revere Bob Dylan.

  6. I watched this entire interview, and felt bad that not only is she unable to sing anymore, but she seems to suffer from a bit of dementia and a lot of Dylan envy. She also overlooks her own free-loving days, having barreled through CSN And Young but now criticizing other women, and I felt that the interviewer had to struggle to keep her coherent. No, it’s sad- obviously she’s always considered herself to be not only Dylan’s, but Leonard Cohen’s superior, and doesn’t like being compared to either of them. In which case, she’ll change the subject and move on to her Mingus work or even her painting instead. And please, Joni- don’t be crazy! Stop smoking!

    • THANK YOU! I hadn’t heard before of her negative words about Janis and Grace, and the first thing I thought when I did read that she was bashing them was “you’re one to talk…” I agree that she is just human like anyone else, and she has her own opinions…but jealousy looks good on no one.

  7. I’m guessing that from her perspective Bob has done her wrong in some way and she needs to vent. None of her observations of him are astute enough to assume much else. She has established herself to be, through her own songs, a very shrewd and insightful witness and chronicler of human nature and events. She’s also proven herself to be, through her art, brutally honest. No matter what one thinks of Dylan and his persona or body of work, she’s got a more objective understanding of what it means to be a performer than her appraisal of Dylan implies. It’s just lost in some subjective cloud and fog of resentment.

    • Joni’s really talented herself, no surprise there, but Dylan’s done a lot more with himself lately than she has, by her own choice. She’s more than a bit resentful and jealous.

  8. There is no comparison with these two genius artists. They are in different spheres… They have taken different paths through the years. I truly miss the varied guitar tunings from Joni’s early albums as much as I miss the stories Bob told us in his early days. The fact is that I am listening to Tempest and still hearing story telling at its best…. I haven’t heard any new guitar playing from Joni. I would like Joni to sit down with her guitar and give us some new songs…just her voice and her guitar…that’s what I miss…

  9. Joni has been aberrant for a while. Ask her sometime about the Morgellons. In 2010, I think in that same interview, she said she was going to get out of the music business to start speaking for “Morgellons disease.” Supposedly it’s caused by tiny
    parasites living under the skin, which produce fibers that grow from skin lesions. Problem? Center for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic have done studies that conclusively prove it doesn’t exist. The Diehl article is actually an innocuous piece in which he interviews her about a drag performer, John Kelly, who presented a Joni Mitchell impersonation show. In the interview, she states, “Exactly! I’m a method actress in my songs,” and “I usually use “I” as the narrator in my songs, but not all the “I’s” are me; they’re characters. It’s theater.” So much for authenticity.

  10. Regardless of Dylan’s accused downside(s), as bestowed by Joni, I believe Dylan’s a songwriter first. Any one of his songs say more than Joni could have ever wished for within the span of her career.

    • Any one, seriously? I value Dylan over almost anyone, including Joni, but don’t talk stupid. You would put “Ballad in Plain D” or “Covenant Woman” over “River” or “Both Sides Now”?

    • Marcus, thank you, so far your words are the arbiter of truth, Dylan is a legend beyond most music icons, He wrote a sing played by Duke Ellington, Almost all major talent has recorded a Dylan song. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, George Harrison (if not for you),his early interview he could sometimes be an outright sarcastic and nasty, He says that when cleaned up, an like his sings says about being of service,
      and he says he went through some radical shifts , He then over a short time became a very gracious great guy,
      Too Bad that Dylan and Joni could not make amends with each other, amends,
      l

  11. Bob Dylan himself is loath to be saddled with labels and will tell anyone who listens that he not a genius, a savior or a saint, but just an entertainer trying to make a living. He even differentiates between himself (Zimmerman) and the character (Dylan) that he has created to entertain his fans. I happen to disagree with his self-assessment and consider him to be the most talented musical artist of the last half of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries and a true genius, but he not only obviously copies other songwriters and musicians, he openly admits that he does it as part of the creative process. And if you have listened to rock or country or folk or blues or rap–or any form of popular music–for any time at all, you know that it is a common practice for artists to “borrow” from those who came along before them. If you do it too blatantly, you can end up getting sued for plagiarism and paying someone lots of dough, but almost all artists do it and most of them do it consciously, although it can happen without them realizing it. That is why McCartney so famously waited months before claiming the melody to “Yesterday” as his own, to be sure it wasn’t something he had subconsciously lifted from another song he had heard and forgotten.

    So Joni, lighten up. Were your excellent folk songs invented out of whole cloth, with no “borrowing” from other artists who preceded you? Did you originate your style of guitar playing? Were your great musical homages to Mingus and other jazz stalwarts completely original? Wasn’t there a larger-than-life Joni Mitchell character you invented to take the stage when it came time to entertain your hordes of fans? And what was the deal with working your way through CSN&Y, in that order–did it make you better than Janis that you weren’t drunk while you did it? Stop throwing stones at your contemporaries or your glass house is going to come crashing down around you! You are one of the most talented musicians of your time. Chill.

  12. Blind leading the blind. Bob Dylan’s name and mask are shields to protect him from his fear of assassination/crucifixion. See his comments about having to sing his songs whether God would deliver him or not. He may not have great guitar skills but he has a certain amount of courage and the world could use a little more of that, methinks. His so called plagiarisms are intended to be references. It’s not his fault that his audience is too ignorant to pick up on them without spending hours on Google searching for the source. He could, however, do a better job of acknowledging his sources. Couldn’t we all? Does Joni cite all her sources on her albums? Methinks there might not be room. And yes, Bob finds inspiration in Hillbilly songs because that is where he learned about the old weird America Greil Marcus has written about. Finally, failing to apologize for remarks that were obviously motivate more by envy than a desire to speak the truth, whether they were quoted out of context or not, is hardly gracious is it? There is however one flaw in Dylan’s brand of authenticity, as cited below. It has to do with fathers and I’ll leave it at that since Bob likes to keep his family of origin a mystery.

  13. On can say that all artist, of any medium, copy for other both consciously
    and unconsciously. I hate how everyone says Dylan music suck but they appreciate his lyrics. What they don’t like is his voice and so they then never listen to the music cause of it. His guitar is always a rythm and doesn’t try to be fancey cause it just ain’t him but does that mean he sucks on guitar?

  14. She is an original. Her approach to guitar, voice, lyrics, and melody cannot be copied. It would be as ridiculous as trying to re-paint one of her canvasses. Dylan is an original too, but he is clearly derivative from other sources he is quick to cite. He has said over the years he copped from Little Richard, from Buddy Holly, from Woody Guthrie, from Ramblin’Jack Elliot, from Richard Manuel. Joni doesn’t cop from anyone much. Hers is a different thing. Dylan takes it all in and spits it back out. I find myself agreeing with her however she wants to play it off. She has earned the right to say what she pleases with no reproach from me. As for Dylan, I saw him in concert last week, and he is a good act with a fine band. I’d spend good money to see him again. Onstage, he gets the job done.

  15. Bob is humble, he loves Joni, he loves Jesus. That is the most amazing thing Jesus loves us first. Warts an all. Ego, addictions, envy etc.
    I am accepted. I am forgiven I am loved by the True and living God I am Completely complete, Perfectly perfect. Because Christ died my death personally. And when He arose from the grave He proved death is defeated. His “It is Finished” was a shout of victory.

  16. I think she’s way off base. Dylan has a very sober view of who he is and what he does. Even if he adopts a “persona”, that doesn’t mean he can’t be authentic. Truman Capote didn’t have to become a killer to write “In Cold Blood.”

    Dylan is still making great music, maybe Joni’s a tad jealous.

  17. Takes herself waaaaay too seriously. Dylan changed the face of music and influenced a generation. He’s a better lyricist and more prolific. Joni, well she’s a talented musician with a somewhat irritating voice and a good songwriter. But put here songwriting alongside “It’s alright Ma (I’m only bleeding)”, “visions of Johanna”, “Idiot Wind” , “Every grain of sand” and 100’s of other Dylan songs and she’s just above mediocre. Plus, he doesn’t disappear up his own ass talking about his ‘Art’. Dylan: “they’re just songs, and I just play ’em”

  18. Joni is a complex and fascinating person – genius material; but the interviewer does a poor job. He’s asking dumb questions and dwelling on insignificant details. No wonder she calls most of her interviewers “stupid”. She is and always was way ahead of the rest (avant garde), and remains true to herself, which is her most admirable quality. In my book, she is free to say and do whatever she pleases. That’s classic Joni Mitchell. Even when she rambles, I find her conversation interesting.

  19. In my opinion, Joni has always been ornery. I was working 20 years ago when she was interviewed at MTV and her contempt for people in her past was blatant.

    Joni did some good music 30 or 40 years ago, but now she;s a bitter old hag.

  20. I really love Joni Mitchell. Blue is probably top 3 albums in my life to impact my entire perspective towards music that astounds me. She has disappointed me immensely with this interview and her “fight” with Morgellan”s Syndrome. She has always been; like many artists; a very eclectic personality. Now she is bitter and delusional. Her disease is a mental illness, that we consider a very old disease better known as delusional parasitosis. Her take on other artists is no doubt just her opinion, but is a compendium of opinions that should best be kept to herself. She simply wounds the feelings of people who have loved her and the other artists of whom she speaks. Her legacy is intact, but she probably needs to isolate herself in Saskatchewan as soon as possible.

  21. I love them both.They’re way more alike than I think Joni cares to acknowledge.Both are incredibly gifted both feisty arrogant,
    opinionated funny,whimsical,inspirational and deeply influential people.
    I’m a little disappointed in Joni for claiming Bob is not “authentic”.
    Personally I don’t care about any of that.It’s just the process he has
    used over the years to tap into the “wellspring of inspiration” he
    talked about on 60 Minutes.

  22. Dylan IS a plagiarist. Joni never said Dylan’s art was bad. She said that he and Dylan were extremely different as artists, and that Dylan a) plagiarized he does) and b) wears a persona.

    The first remark is entirely subjective (how different she and D are. The second is simply accurate. The third is something very few people could affirm, perhaps not even Dylan, but the fact is that his audience long ago turned Dylan into some kind of prophetic demi-god, and nothing Dylan does seems able to convince them that he’s just another artist.

  23. wow she makes me lol ….I think Joni s stored up wrath for her so called friends lets face it JM is a dif cup of water her yrs of hibernating in snow drifts and sneaking tobbaco are that far removed bless her heart …..she is right in her assumptions and observations but she has to reel in time ever so gently now …and she will as she sees her own acheivments closely resembling theirs in an obscure way ….it is their era of peace ..mine is dif……but I love them for their example

  24. The Q is amazing he is very sensitive to Ms Mitchell she has aged well I respect some of her work she is an icon and she is older I can give her space for that I hope she is feeling ……healthier must be hard to be interviewed and have to jusify your heart on the sleeve she is a tough ol bird

  25. I’ve always thought that the greatest invention of any great artist is himself. Leonardo da Vinci, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis, Dali….and probably even John Lennon. Even though what we saw probably was largely the real Lennon, every artist worth his salt adds and adds to his own character because he instinctively knows how to sell himself. And all of these guys were in absolute adoration of what went before. I think Chuck Berry invented the duck walk as a result of tripping over a guitar cable. Nice save, Chuck. (And if it ain’t true, it ought a be) Point being, we can’t help but be influenced by what we love. I’m sure Dylan is an absolute genius, and growing up, I wasn’t that fond of his music, probably because of his voice and his tin ear. But upon reflection, without the character he invented, I don’t believe his songs would have had nearly the impact. And with a great singing voice, he might not have caught everyone’s attention. I think John Lennon knew this about him. I think half the attraction of Dylan was….is this guy putting us on? But having read his autobiography, I have no doubt of his brilliance as a writer.

  26. I think people are getting Joni wrong. I am a big fan of both Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan and I think Joni is right about Dylan. She wasn’t criticizing his talent, his vision or his value as an artist necessarily. Dylan’s persona is a mask, and it has been consciously created to deliver his music and message. Joni’s isn’t so much, they are very different artists. Dylan copied his folk hero Woody Guthrie, whereas Joni’s style was more or less her own- she is one of the true originals in music. she invented her own open tunings even before most people knew what open tuning was, and her style is completely unconventional, she was way ahead of her time in many respects. Her lyrics are introspective, particularly on Blue, which is a masterpiece. Bob’s lyrics are clever, and a lot of the time, they don’t reveal a lot about him personally, he is still a mystery, whereas Joni bared her soul, on Blue in particular. I do think Dylan’s Desire album is a masterpiece also but I don’t think you can put them in the same category at all. That said, both are legends, and will be emulated forever.

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