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Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings


Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings

I note two key events in Joni Mitchell’s life in 1971.

One was public: On June 22nd, she released Blue, the most essential of her essential albums. If you do not own and revere it, or if it is new to you, please go ASAP to my review, watch the videos, click to buy, and notice the immediate improvement in the quality of your life.

The other was private: a 58-page book of handwritten lyrics and 30 illustrations and watercolor paintings. Her manager and agent had it printed and bound by “a Japanese fellow who used pale blue and silver foil on the cover and made it look, to me, like a bridal book.” She gave it to 100 friends that Christmas. It is safe to say that this cherished gift has become more cherished over the decades.

"For those in the Joni Mitchell cult, this is a book that will be as cherished as its 1971 edition."

Joni Mitchell is now 76. She’s had some health issues. Her attitude toward her celebrity --- “I wasn’t a kid that played air guitar in the bedroom and went, ‘Oh! I’m gonna be rich and famous!’ and all of that.” --- has mellowed. She has come to feel that “work is meant to be seen, or heard, as the case may be.” This year’s manifestation: MORNING GLORY ON THE VINE: Early Songs and Drawings, 128 professionally published pages, with 25 handwritten songs/poems from the early ’70s that aren’t on any album, buttressed by watercolors and felt-tip pen illustrations. For her, the art is the bigger reason to turn a private gift into a public statement. “I sing my sorrow and I paint my joy,” she has said. “Once when I was sketching my audience in Central Park, they had to drag me onto the stage.” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here.]

In 1971, she was living in Laurel Canyon with Graham Nash. (His band --- need I say: Crosby, Still & Nash --- immortalized that happy time in “Our House”.) Her portraits are mostly done with felt-tip pen, often in exuberant color. Later, she strips her technique to simpler lines. Like Warhol and Matisse, there are drawings made with a single, unbroken line, fortified with a few tasty colors. And there are pages that stun with feeling and insight: portraits of Neil Young and Georgia O’Keefe. To see a gallery of art from the book, click here.

“The Fishbowl,” the first poem in the book, signals that this is --- like Blue --- unvarnished and intimate writing. She has spoken of her inspiration for it:

I felt sorry for stars. Sandra Dee was all over the local magazines with her mascara running down … she was breaking up with her husband, it was misery. ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘the poor woman. What if they did that to me in the school newspaper?’ I had to write in blank verse on assignment. And I was getting my hair done for some beauty contest at the hair school by amateurs. And there were these stacks of these magazines with Sandra Dee crying on the cover, so I wrote this poem called ‘The Fishbowl’ about Hollywood before I ever was here.

Which translates to:

The fishbowl is a world reversed
where fishermen
with hooks that dangle
from the bottom up
Reel down their catch
on gilded bait

Pike, pickerel, bass
the common fish
ogle through distorting glass
See only glitter,
gaiety –

Fog up the bowl with lusty breath
Lunge toward the bait and miss
And weep for fortunes lost

Envy the goldfish — why?
Prisoner of golden scales
His bubbles breaking round the rim
Screaming in the aisles
Autographed, photographed, cello-wrapped smiles
“Yours forever – sincerely”
“Oh Jesus Mary — I think he winked at me!”

For those in the Joni Mitchell cult, this is a book that will be as cherished as its 1971 edition.

Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth for on November 1, 2019

Morning Glory on the Vine: Early Songs and Drawings
by Joni Mitchell

  • Publication Date: October 22, 2019
  • Genres: Art, Music, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 136 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 0358181720
  • ISBN-13: 9780358181729