Joni Mitchell on being like a cellophane wrapper on cigarettes to share an authentic self as part of the creative process

Joni Mitchell A Case of YouI’ve come to the Joni Mitchell party late. As I cross the finish line on projects inspiration is in dire demand and in short supply. But, when you write as a profession, inspiration is a luxury not a tool or skill since inspiration can entail procrastinating researching through naps, walks, coffee, books, shows, watching/performing dance, and a heavy lean-in on music.

It was actually through dance that I was introduced to “A Case of You.” I heard it through Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre’s performance of it, choreographed by Judith Jamison and sung by Diana Krall. The original of the song was by Joni Mitchell on her classic album “Blue.”

I read up on an interview about the origins of the song. Read the article, originally published in Rolling Stone (1979) if you want to know about the song, but in terms of the creative process that lead up to “Blue,” this quote of Ms. Mitchell’s caught my attention as it applies not just to being true in your work but in living an authentic life:

“The Blue album, there’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals,” she said. “At that period in my life, I had no personal defenses. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.”

Blue was a critical and commercial success at its release in 1971. In January 2000, the New York Times chose Blue as one of the 25 albums that represented “turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music.”

I was just having an in-depth conversation with a friend as we discussed in which situation it was all right to just pretend to be strong and happy. My two cents was what it was in relation to social situations, but in terms of creativity, there’s one answer: never.

I don’t believe you have to use the Method to act nor do you have to bare your soul for everything nor that you particularly must or should suffer for your art or profession or calling. It often happens regardless — Ms. Mitchell’s life being a case in point. Not everyone wants to be or can be her nor pay those tolls to travel that road. Sometimes, some work is just entertainment! It’s for laughs, for a fright, for unabashed sentimentality, for commerce, and it’s all good. But those times when a story or performance be it stand-up or an opera resonates, there was a truth that was shared. And how to get there? Unwrapping that wrapper.

It’s a crapshoot at times, most times it’s elusive, especially when deadlines or collaboration is involved. Yet, it is a worthwhile pursuit when you are in the midst of the process and there’s something you’re scraping at, when the stakes are high, that unabashed, unapologetic vulnerability is the toughest part to allow in, much less share. Even in living, authenticity is the toughest part — finding an authentic self or voice is one part of the struggle, the second is walking that walk.

As Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” refers to that state, as the title reflects, as having a beginner’s mind since a beginner has no preconceptions, has never failed and thus has no fear, holds all possibilities in equal weight. All outcomes are open to you and you are open to them. It’s why first loves hit you like a tsunami because you have no shields. It’s also why, if you are referring to a first love, chances are there is/was a second and third or more, but each time, barriers are put up. It’s called growing up, being practical, being wise even, but sometimes (always?) in creativity, it’s not what’s needed to reach that cellophane on a cigarette box stage.


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