Joni Mitchell Woodstock is often referred to as "the song of a generation," and while it may be a clichéd accolade, it is easy to see how it fits the bill in this case. The song was almost as influential on her peers as the festival itself, and it enjoyed popular success with music fans as well.
About Joni Mitchell Woodstock
Here's the kicker about this song that epitomizes the Woodstock Festival - she was never there. Of course, no one knew what a life of its own Woodstock would go on to take, and Mitchell was famously urged by her manager to skip Woodstock to make sure her appearance on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show was safe. Her manager said this show was more important than "sitting in a field with 500 people." The kicker here is that two bands that appeared at Woodstock - Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young - were on the same episode of the show with her. They were able to fly back and forth with ease.
Legend has it that Mitchell penned Woodstock after her boyfriend, Graham Nash of CSN&Y, told her about the festival. She was so distraught about missing it that she sat down and wrote Woodstock through her tears.
The words of the songs hint at Mitchell's disappointment about not being part of Woodstock:
- Then can I walk beside you
- I have come here to lose the smog
- And I feel to be a cog in something turning
- Well maybe it is just the time of year
- Or maybe its the time of man
- I don't know who l am
- But you know life is for learning
- We are stardust
- We are golden
- And we've got to get ourselves
- Back to the garden
As David Crosby saw it, however, Mitchell didn't have to be at Woodstock to know exactly what it was about. In the documentary film Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, Crosby said that she "captured the feeling and importance better than anyone who had been there."
Woodstock has appeared on three of Mitchell's albums: Ladies of the Canyon, Shadows and Light and Hits.
Bring on the Cover Versions
For Joni Mitchell, Woodstock was certainly a success, but its greatest legacy may actually be all of the cover versions that it launched. Indeed, other artists arguably had more success with the song than she did. Two notably popular cover versions include one done by Crosby Stills Nash and Young for their Déjà Vu album and another version by Matthew's Southern Comfort, which went all the way to number one in the UK music charts.
Although not strictly a cover version, History of Led Zeppelin borrowed heavily from Woodstock both lyrically and musically for live versions of their song Dazed and Confused, including the version performed for their concert video The Song Remains the Same. Rumor has it than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were smitten with Mitchell and that the lines "to find a queen without a king, she says she plays guitar and cries and sings" from the song Going to California (Led Zeppelin IV) are about Mitchell. In fact, Plant often finishes that line with "Joni" when playing the song live.
The Legacy of Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell is best known as a folk singer but she has dabbled in virtually all forms of music, from jazz to blues to world music. Some of the varied artists who point to her as inspiration include:
- Elvis Costello
- Diana Krall
- Bright Eyes
- Annie Lenox
Canadian born Mitchell was inducted in to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1981 and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007. She is also one of only three musicians to receive a Companion of the Order of Canada honor (keeping good company with Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot).
While Woodstock lives on through pop culture references in sources as different as the hit show Six Feet Under and the video game Grand Theft Auto, Mitchell continues to make music sporadically. She has expressed her disdain for the current state of the music industry and claims to be searching for a new way to release her music. She spend more of her time these days on her art, which is shown on occasion but she never sells.
Listen to Woodstock
If you've never heard Woodstock before, or if you just want a refresher, you can listen to the song for free at Last FM.