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Joni Mitchell

A lot of struggles and a lot of joy

Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This week sees the 50th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s Blue, says the singer Laura Marling in Blue: Pain and Pleasure, a BBC radio documentary that mixes songs from the Canadian singer-songwriter’s classic album with interviews explaining how it was made and why it is regarded by critics as one of the greatest records of all time. Blue informed my entire career, says Marling, who is joined by other famous Mitchell fans, including Emeli Sandé, Beth Orton, Ellie Goulding, James Taylor, Graham Nash and Seal. Even Mitchell’s contemporaries were shocked by its emotional intensity. “I played it to Kris Kristofferson and he went, ‘Joni, save something for yourself’,” says Mitchell. But vulnerability “was all I was capable of”.

And no wonder – her life was far from straightforward. In 1952, aged nine, she contracted polio. The doctors told her she’d never walk again, but it was the Christmas season and Mitchell wanted to be home for the holiday. Every night, after lights out, she secretly practised walking – illuminated only by the light of a hospital Christmas tree. She made a full recovery. “And I have two ornaments off that polio tree left.”

At 21 she was single, accidentally pregnant and an art-school dropout. She gave the child up for adoption, which inspired the Blue track Little Green. It meant I became an artist faster, says the singer, who was 21 when she wrote her first album and 27 when she made Blue. People think that’s too young to know about life, but “I had lived quite a bit of life”. A lot of the struggles “and a lot of the joy”.

Listen to the documentary here. And watch Mitchell performing A Case of You, from Blue, below 👇