Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Joni Mitchell's Coyote

"Great simplicity is only won by an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort, or by both. It represents one of the most arduous conquests of the human spirit: the triumph of feeling and thought over the natural sin of language." ~T. S. Eliot
I'm trying a little experiment today. If you'd care to join me in it open a "New Window" in your menu bar and open: (SD) (HD)

in the new window. Squeeze the new window to the video width, let it buffer if needed and put it to the left of the screen. Then squeeze the original window a bit until they are both side by side. You may need to shrink the font a bit if you are using a laptop. Scroll along with the lyrics and my commentary.

Start the video and begin...

This song by Joni Mitchell is from the time she spent with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue and deals with a sexual encounter she had with Sam Shepard (the writer, actor and musician), and how differences in their respective lives made it impossible to continue the relationship:

Verse 1

No regrets Coyote...

The affair is over, yet she feels compelled to revisit it...

We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
And you're up early on your ranch

... in Nova Scotia, near the Bay of Fundy

You'll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
While the sun is ascending
And I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel...

Joni defines their mutual attraction...

There's no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay

Joni sees integrity in Sam's passion (wishful thinking?):

You're not a hit and run driver, no, no
Racing away

... but of herself, she has a more realistic view:

You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Verse 2

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
And we rolled right past that tragedy

The farmhouse = Joni and Sam's past life?

Till we pulled into some road house lights
Where a local band was playing
Locals were up kicking and shaking on the floor
And the next thing I know

Seduction begins:

That Coyote's at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won't take "No!"

... but Joni is enjoying this immensely!

He drags me out on the dance floor
And we're dancing close and slow

... and she knows exactly what she's getting into:

Now he's got a woman at home
He's got another woman down the hall

Smiling, at the moment of conquest...

He seems to want me anyway

Sam, speaking through Joni's voice:

"Why'd you have to get so drunk and
Lead me on that way?"

Joni answers:

You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Verse 3

Joni conflates their situation with the natural world, placing it in her personal experience:

I looked a Coyote right in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old home town
He went running through the whisker wheat
Chasing some prize down
And a hawk was playing with him
Coyote was jumping straight up and making passes
He had those same eyes - just like yours
Under your dark glasses

... then puts his in the context of the current situation:

Privately probing the public rooms
And peeking through keyholes in numbered doors
Where the players lick their wounds
And take their temporary lovers
And their pills and powders to get them through this passion play

Joni won't commit:

No regrets, Coyote...
I just get off up aways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Verse 4

No illusions the morning after:

Coyote's in the coffee shop
He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he's watching the waitresses' legs

Sam is suffering from being away from his roots:

He's too far from the Bay of Fundy
Appaloosas and Eagles and tides
The air conditioned cubicles
And the carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
Either he's going to have to stand and fight
Or take off out of here

Still, Joni can't deny the power of his charm:

I tried to run away myself
To run away and wrestle with my ego
And with this flame
You put here in this Eskimo

Reestablishes her distance by defining herself:

In this hitcher

and finally achieves her moment of great simplicity:

In this prisoner
Of the fine white lines
Of the white lines
On the free, free way

Realizing that the need for independence defines her, Joni can let the relationship go. She fades out in the distance, going alone on her own "free" way...

By Professor Batty


Blogger Jono said...

Thanks Batty! I've always liked the song and Joni, of course, but had no idea who it was about. Didn't she win Rolling Stone's "old lady of the year" award long ago for her many exploits?

Blogger Mary said...

Hmmm, sounds sort of like Patti Smith's relationship with Sam Shepard. He sure was a busy guy.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Jono~ Well she sure knew how to pick 'em!

Mary~ Patti was pretty torn up when Sam left her. I think Joni wanted to cut it short before it became too much. That seems to be a common theme in many of her songs.

Blogger Chuck's Lake Travis Log said...

I hope for the best for Joni. She even now is alone. So many chances to be happy. What torment she must endure, to write so many beautiful songs about her own anguish. For someone who also struggled to find a place in the world, her words gave such great comfort.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

Chuck~ She never puled any punches, that's for sure!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just love her, she is a genius

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