The Circle Game

Visiting a friend in Boston in the fall of 1968 I caught a live show with James Taylor opening for Joni Mitchell in a basement dive with benches for seats. It was an incredible show for the price of the $3.00 ticket. Taylor’s debut album on Apple hadn’t even been released yet, but both Taylor and Mitchell had developed followings based on the songs they had contributed to Tom Rush’s “Circle Game” album earlier that year. (According to Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us, Mitchell’s affair with Taylor followed shortly after.)
Mitchell was the star of the show I saw. She had only recently arrived on the scene, having turned up with two dozen finely crafted songs that instantly put her on the map and a restless spirit that has kept her an artist of continuing interest. In her first batch of songs was “Both Sides Now,” which Judy Collins had already turned into a massive hit by the time I saw Mitchell in 1968.
One of the highlights of her career must be her appearance at the Band’s Last Waltz Thanksgiving concert in 1976. The video from the film captures Mitchell’s performance of “Coyote,” a song that gives a bittersweet taste of a musician’s life on the road. (Weller, incidentally, reveals that “Coyote” is the playwright Sam Shepard.)
The blissful counterpart to “Coyote” is “Night Ride Home.” It’s the Fourth of July fifteen years later. Mitchell is on vacation in Hawaii and on the road with the man she loves beside her — “far from the overkill, far from the overload.” On the banks of the Amstel River in Amsterdam, accompanying herself alone and looking her listener straight in the eyes, Mitchell brings this beautiful song to life in this video.
Yesterday Mitchell turned 66. As she anticipated in “The Circle Game,” we are now old enough to drag our feet and try to slow those circles down.


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