The life story of Johnny Mitchell

Johnny Mitchell, is the winner of eight “Grammy’s”, including the one for lifetime achievement in 2002. She wrote the song “Woodstock” which gave a name to the whole generation and regularly appears on the lists of the ten best songwriters of the 20th century – wrote David Jeff in the just published Johnny Mitchell’s biography entitled “Reckless Daughter”.

In HBO’s “Girls” series, they recently used her song “Free Man in Paris”, and at the 2016 Oscars, they sang her “Both Sides, Now” to say goodbye to a number of greats who left us that year, from Prince, who loved Johnny, to Leonard Cohen, who was her lover.

– For the modern world, Johnny Mitchell is more than an icon of the seventies and a pop star. She sang of our sorrows, our ups and downs. She no longer performs alone, but her records still play and are permanent documents of beauty and imperfection. And as long as people listen to music, her story will be told by her voice, her strange chords, her unique style – Jeff wrote.

The life story of Johnny Mitchell is difficult and in the following text, I will do my best to tell it as well as possible!

Earlier years

Roberta Joan Anderson, was born on November 7, 1943, in the Canadian province of Fort McLeod in Alberta. Myrtle’s mother was a teacher and then a housewife, Bill’s father, a soldier, later the owner of a grocery store. The marriage was obviously not particularly happy, and the mother always told her unit, “Don’t have children when you grow up!”

When Joan was nine years old, they moved to no less remote Saskatoon, where the girl became ill with polio during an epidemic that was raging because there was no vaccine yet. About 600,000 children fell ill, including her compatriot Neil Young, later a famous musician. They took her to quarantine about a hundred kilometers from the house, where she listened to the hiss of artificial lungs for weeks and watched the boy in the bed next to her digging his nose.

– I was stiff and the muscles in my back didn’t work anymore. That’s why my spine twisted like a broken doll, and my legs were paralyzed – Johnny remembers. Her mother visited her once during all that time, her father never, either because of the distance or because of the fear of infection. The prognosis was that Joan would never walk again, but she did not want to come to terms with life in a wheelchair, so she started singing loudly and praying.

– Not to God, nor to Jesus, but to destiny or something like that. I said, “Give me back my legs and I’ll repay you.” And I stunned them all when I got up and walked – she told the author of the biography.

At first, she did not dream of a music career. She was interested in painting, and she experienced music only as entertainment, she listened to the “Hit Parade” on the radio and loved dancing.

– I was totally anti-intellectual. I loved to dance and paint, and that was mostly it. As for serious debates, at the time they were mostly pseudo-intellectual and boring. “If I saw my peers sitting and solving world problems, I would always think, ‘All in all, I’d rather dance,'” Johnny said.

She bought her first instrument, the ukulele, for $36 when she was 15 and learned to play it so she could sing simple songs with her friends. Later, she also mastered playing the guitar, working out her own grips for chords due to her fingers weakened by the disease. When she enrolled at the School of Fine Arts in Calgary, where she spent about a year, she started performing in clubs to earn money for drinks and cigarettes – she smoked from the age of nine, sometimes four boxes a day – and then moved on, in Toronto. There she met a boy she knew from high school, lost her virginity and remained pregnant.

Loss of a child

– You can’t imagine what a shame that was. Worse than killing someone, ”Johnny once said.

Abortion was not legal then, so in February 1965, a young woman gave birth to a baby girl, Kelly Dale, and gave it to her home. Shortly afterwards, she met Chuck Mitchell, a Michigan folk-singer, whom she married after only a few days of acquaintance and moved to America in hopes of starting a family with him and taking her daughter back. She sewed the wedding dress and dresses for the bridesmaids herself. But, as soon as they got married, Chuck told her that it didn’t occur to him to take care of someone else’s child, so little Kelly went to the adoptive parents. Six months later, Johnny left Chuck and kept only his last name, and in Jaffa’s biography he claims that he was her “first serious exploiter”.

As if the loss of her daughter triggered something in her, she started writing her own songs and then came the touching “Little Green,” a complaint about a child who is no more, but Johnny only recorded it after she became famous. While she performed at a number of festivals and clubs, accompanying herself on guitar, her songs were heard by other singers and they began to sing them. Buffy Saint-Marie recorded “The Circle Game”, and Judy Collins “Both Sides Now”, which became a hit and brought the author a name and earnings. Mitchell, however, viciously ridiculed her performance, claiming that it was too much and “sounds feminine”, which surprised Collins, until David Crosby explained to her:

– Johnny hates everything.

Crosby, then a member of the “Byrd’s” band, persuaded Johnny to take off his false eyelashes and introduced her to the music scene in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, where she bought a house. After him, she lived with Graham Nash, in the house to which he dedicated the host ode “Our House”, and when he proposed to her, she almost agreed, but then, she says, she remembered her grandmothers who had to give up their own dreams because of marriage. , and said no.

“It broke my heart,” she admitted, and disappeared.

She traveled the world for a while, and then returned to record the album “Blue”, vulnerable “like a cellophane wrapper on a box of cigarettes”, as she said. The songs from that album enter the intimacy so painfully that Chris Christofferson, while listening to her play them, said to her:

– Johnny, don’t reveal everything, save something for yourself.

Health issues

Along with “Little Green”, the album also includes “River”, recorded in more than 500 versions to date, as well as “A Case of You”, perhaps the most romantic song recorded by Mitchell, about a relationship with another great musician and poet, Leonard Cohen. And then she disappeared again, this time after some kind of nerve breakdown.

– I cried all the time. It was a year of tears. People arrived on the moon, I cried. I couldn’t stay in the company, because everything brought me to tears – said Johnny, who has no explanation for the disease, except that there was a “biochemical imbalance” in the middle, which may be a neurological consequence of polio.

At that time, she bought a property in British Columbia, which she still owns today, along with a spacious estate in Bel Air, California, and read Freud, Jung and “I Ching”, and then turned to music and love again.

Although Rolling Stone magazine maliciously awarded her the title of “queen of sex” because she lined up so many partners, someone noticed that her relationships “do not impress so much with quantity as with quality”. She had fun with musicians such as James Taylor and Jackson Brown, and was the handsome Sam Shepard, a recently deceased writer and actor, to whom she dedicated the not-so-flattering song “Coyote,” and the courtship of Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson.

She researched jazz with Jack Pastorius, as well as with drummer John Guerin, with whom she was on the “Rolling Thunder Revue” tour in 1975, which was attended by Dylan and Joan Baez, where, says Jeff, tons of cocaine were consumed. Only Baez was clean, while Johnny took drugs, although she claimed for a long time that her only vices were coffee and cigarettes.

After that tour, she recorded the album “Hejira”, full of cocaine energy, and then moved more towards jazz with “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” and a collaboration with Charles Mingus, which was also marked by illness, but his: the legendary jazz bassist was suffering from amyotriophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and he died before the album “Mingus” was released.

She suffered physical abuse from Don Alias, a percussion player, and yet she endured four years with him, and in 1982 she married 25-year-old bassist and sound engineer Larry Klein. Although she was married to him for 12 years, in her biography she calls him an “inflated dwarf”. Convinced that she was infertile, she remained pregnant with Klein, but she did not want to give up cigarettes, coffee or cocaine, so she had a miscarriage and lost her child.

Cigarettes also destroyed her three-octave voice, which ranged from a throaty tenor to a crystalline soprano. When she recorded the album “Both Sides Now” in 2000, members of the London Symphony Orchestra cried as they followed her, perhaps mourning that once miraculous voice that no longer exists.

After the last album, Johnny retired, devoting herself mostly to her first love, painting, fighting insomnia, from which she suffers for years, and other pains that did not leave her. Five years ago, they found her unconscious on the kitchen floor: she was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and ended up in emergency surgery. They gave her little chance of recovery, but Johnny survived again. Fate seems to have answered her prayer once again.

Twice lost daughter

Little Kelly, who was adopted by Johnny shortly after giving birth to her, grew up as Kiloren Gibb in a well-to-do family in Toronto, studied at Harvard and worked as a model. Although she inherited high cheekbones and a penchant for cigarettes from her biological mother, she did not know about her until she sought her out when she herself remained pregnant at the age of 27.

Johnny and Kiloren finally met in 1997, and the media went crazy interviewing everyone live, from the adoptive parents to Johnny’s already elderly parents. It soon became clear that the situation was not very idyllic: the mother and daughter, both stubborn, clashed loudly, and Kiloren was arguing so fiercely with the then boyfriend, with whom she had another child in the meantime, that the police had to intervene. In the general circus, Johnny and Kiloren broke off all ties in 2001. But maybe not all is lost, because a few years later, Mitchell stated that she enjoys being the grandmother of two grandchildren.

Crazy people from a Canadian province

Margaret Atwood, the author of The Maid’s Tale, and Johnny Mitchell were stars at the same time on the Canadian Walk of Fame in Toronto in 2001. How the two of them had very similar childhoods.

“Don’t worry, I won’t sing,” Atwood said, “but Johnny Mitchell and I have a lot in common, even though I’m older and she has lighter hair.” We both belong to the generation of Canadian lunatics. In the early 1960s, when Canada was just a blank spot on a cultural map, if you said, “I’m a writer,” or “Hey, I’m Johnny Mitchell, and I’m going to be a world-famous musician,” others would immediately say, “You’re you.” crazy ”! And, you still had to multiply that by ten, if you were from the province. But Johnny still achieved just that.

Music scene in Laurel Canyon

The scene in Laurel Canyon was conceived when Frank Zappa moved to it in the late sixties. Jim Morrison from “Dorsey” allegedly wrote “Love Street” there. Michelle and John Phillips lived there in 1965, when their band “Mamas and Papas” was at its peak. David Crosby, Stephen Steels, Graham Nash and Neil Young formed a band in the area, and Linda Ronstadt and Carol King, James Taylor and Jackson Brown also lived there. Johnny Mitchell bought a house there with a view of Zappa’s garden for 36 thousand dollars.

– When my mother came to visit me, three naked girls were floating on a raft on the lake that was in the garden. Mom was horrified – remembers Johnny, who remembers how the cacophony of bands rehearsed in that area in the afternoon, and at night nothing was heard except cats and mockingbirds, and it smelled of eucalyptus.

A living legend

Johnny Mitchell is one of the biggest names in pop music, and her inspired lyrics – which seem to have organically merged with innovative harmonic and melodic lines – have brought her a special place on the stage. From the first album “Song to a Seagull”, which was produced in 1968 by her then lover David Crosby, through the platinum “Ladies of the Canyon” from 1970 and the intimate “Blue” from 1971, which is considered one of the best albums of all time, all the way to jazz experiments with greats like Jaco Pastorius, Charles Mingus and Herbie Hancock (who won a Grammy in 2008 for an album with covers of songs by Johnny Mitchell performed by Nora Jones and Tina Turner, among others) and the latest album “Shine”, which she recorded in 2007, Johnny remained his own, original and incorruptible.

The audience and the critics sometimes recognized her talent, sometimes not at all, but that is why her colleagues admire her. Musicians such as Prince, Tory Amos, Bjork, Annie Lennox, Cindy Loper, Madonna and Robert Plant have admitted that she has immeasurably influenced their work.

Today, 73 years old, Johnny lives in seclusion, battling the diseases that have accompanied her since the earliest days. She has been absent from the music scene for a long time, for which there are not too many nice words, comparing it to a septic tank.

– America is like processed cheese. Everything must be homogenized. The beer is diluted, the beauties are all the same, the music is homogenized, everything sounds the same – said Johnny irritably, who often bypassed the awards she won.

She once turned down an offer to perform in Las Vegas for a million-dollar fee (“That desert hole is the kiss of death for serious music,” she said), and did not participate in the opening of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver – although they called her – because then, as she explained, she was terribly tormented by the so-called Morgelons syndrome, because of which she could not even put on her clothes.

Morgelons syndrome is an insufficiently explained disorder, in which the patient has the feeling that insects are biting on his skin or under it, which are eating him, and it is considered to be of a psychological nature. Johnny, who describes the attacks of the disease so painful that she could only crawl on the floor while her legs were cramping, is convinced that in her case she has something to do with the polio that she suffered as a child, because it affects her in exactly the same places. Was captured and polio.


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