The Late Movies: Joni Mitchell, Then and Now

OK, I have a confession to make: I'm a big wuss and I love Joni Mitchell. It's almost all my mom listened to while I was growing up, so even before I started discovering music on my own, I was pretty familiar with most of her stuff from the late 60s through the 80s. A lot of people love the old classics -- her 1971 album Blue still makes a lot of critical "desert island" top ten lists -- and while I certainly do too, I think she's done interesting and innovative work since then as well, much of which gets overlooked.

So this is a special kind of list. It's one especially good song from every Joni Mitchell album in chronological order, which, if listened to from start to finish, should provide an interesting snapshot of the progression of her style (from the folky 60s to the jazzy 70s and poppy 80s and then back to her folk roots in the 90s and beyond) and her voice, which gets gravelly and deep as the years wear on (she's been a smoker for decades, and you can tell; though she can't hit the high notes like she used to, I think it gives her voice a cool, weathered quality).

Song for a Seagull: "Cactus Tree" (1969)

The big hit from her debut album, the one that launched her into stardom, back in her flowy-gowned, ethereal hippie days.

Clouds: "Songs to Aging Children Come" (1969)

Another sparsely arranged album, mostly just Joni's voice and guitar. This is an early example of her musical experimentation -- there are certainly more popular songs from this album ("Both Sides Now," for instance), but the Allmusic guide credits this song with having "perhaps the most remarkably sophisticated chord sequence in all of pop music." I couldn't find her original on YouTube -- this is a cover version used in the film Alice's Restaurant.

Ladies of the Canyon: "For Free" (1970)

The album's title refers to the Laurel Canyon neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills of LA, where Mitchell and a lot of other music scenesters of the era lived, and the album deals with the complexities of celebrity and love and the Woodstock generation in a really lucid and honest way. This song -- among her best, I think -- captures the mixed feelings she must've had about her sudden fame and fortune.

OK, I'm breaking my rule and including a second song from this album -- "Rainy Night House," which is so snaky and jazzy and unlike much of what she'd done up to this point. I feel like this is the song that kind of points her way into the 70s, musically. She's definitely leaving behind the ethereal hippie girl vibe here. (This is a live version recorded a few years after the album was released.)

Blue: "A Case of You" (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 couldn't agree more -- every song on this album is like an intricate little gem. They're all worthy of posting here, but this song gets me every time. This performance looks like it's from the late 70s or early 80s -- but I think it still resonates loud and clear.

For the Roses: "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" (1972)

Her big hit on this album was "You Turn Me On I'm A Radio" -- written semi-sarcastically after record company execs requested she turn out a radio-friendly song -- but I think it's one of her least interesting. There's way more soul in this track, about a heroin addict searching for "lady relief" --

Court and Spark: "Court and Spark"(1974)

Her best-selling album ever, recorded after a two-year hiatus from the music biz. It's clear she spent those years listening to a lot of jazz, because it's infused throughout what used to be a much more straightforwardly folky sound. I've always loved this one --

And speaking of jazz, Herbie Hancock and Norah Jones' cover of it ain't bad either:

The Hissing of Summer Lawns: "Edith and the Kingpin" (1975)

OK, this is where most people who like "early" Joni Mitchell check out and stop paying attention, but I think some of her most interesting work starts here. She completely reinvents her sound on this album -- again -- and the result are these complex, multilayered, snaky, jazzy numbers that paint these very cinematic portraits of little situations and moments in time. I can't think of anything else that sounds like this, before or since. (Also, this is when musical geniuses in their own right like Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny became part of her sound -- her "band," I guess you could call them.)

Hejira: "Amelia" (1976)

Sparse and thoughtful, these were songs written on a cross-country road trip. I think this homage to Amelia Earhart is the standout.

Don Juan's Reckless Daughter: "Overture/Cotton Avenue" (1977)

Super experimental, improvisational, and loose, it's one of her least accessible but most intriguing albums (and definitely one of her least known). Lots of overdubbing and harmonies here create big, weird sonic landscapes -- and bassist Jaco Pastorius does some of his best work here, especially in this song (which kicks into high gear around 2:00 -- wait for it).

joni-mingus

Mingus: "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines" (1979)

Recorded with jazz pioneer Charles Mingus in the months before his death, it would be Mingus' final recording effort, and the album is dedicated wholly to him. Joni also painted the above picture of Mingus -- included as an LP album insert (which I have framed and hung on the wall of my office, FYI). Also notable as the first album she released while I was, like, alive.

Try not to tap your feet to the funky-ass jive she and Jaco lay down on this track, I dare you.

Wild Things Run Fast: "Moon at the Window" (1982)

Another reinvention of her sound. There are several tracks on this album that are definitely of the 80s -- and I don't think they're among her best work -- but there are a number of gems, like this one. Interestingly, Joni said in an interview that the Police influenced the change in her sound: "their rhythmic hybrids, and the positioning of the drums, and the sound of the drums, was one of the main calls out to me to make a more rhythmic album."

Dog Eat Dog: "Ethiopia" (1985)

Warning: this album is HEAVILY 80s. Lots of fans were pissed about all the synths she used (Thomas Dolby produced some of the tracks), and it's fascinating how angry a lot of these songs are -- though it seems a heartfelt reaction to the materialism of the 80s. This song isn't my fave or anything, but it just seems so quintessentially of the time -- that awful famine in Ethiopia seemed like it was the only thing on the news when I was growing up -- that it captures the album for me.

Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm: "The Beat of Black Wings" (1988)

The last of her super-synthy 80s albums, it has a few standouts, and is notable, I think, for how political it is. She rails against consumerism, commercialism and the destruction of Native American culture (and Native American musical tropes pop up throughout the songs). In case their are kids in the room: Joni talks about abortion and drops a big fat F-bomb in this one.

Night Ride Home: "Passion Play" (1991)

A return to form, in my opinion. She ditches most of the synths, gets out the guitar and the piano, and kicks ass. There are several great songs here. I'm including three. It's that good!

"Slouching Towards Bethlehem"

A brilliant musical rendition of Yeats' seminal poem. Truly powerful. (Please ignore the video's insanely annoying on-the-nose graphics, however. Maybe hide the window?)

Two Grey Rooms

A heartfelt piano ballad inspired by a story about German film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who, amid the repression of Germany's antigay Paragraph 175 laws, was left broken-hearted by a male lover in his youth. In a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell says of the song:

It's a story of obsession ... about this German aristocrat who had a lover in his youth that he never got over. He later finds this man working on a dock and notices the path that the man takes every day to and from work. So the aristocrat gives up his fancy digs and moves to these two shabby gray rooms overlooking this street, just to watch this man walk to and from work.

She's released several albums since then, my favorite being Turbulent Indigo, but videos of the songs are tough to find. Check out her rendition (songification?) of the Book of Job (no kidding), called "The Sire of Sorrow." Dang.

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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Words
Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know
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For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.

1. VAGARY

From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.

2. SELCOUTH

An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.

3. FERNWEH

Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.

4. DÉPAYSEMENT

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Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.

5. DÉRIVE

Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.

6. PEREGRINATE

To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.

7. PERAMBULATE

Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.

8. NUMINOUS

The Grand Canyon
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This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.

9. PERIPATETIC

The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).

10. WALDEINSAMKEIT

You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)

11. SHINRIN-YOKU

In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.

12. SOLIVAGANT

In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.

13. YOKO MESHI

This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.

14. RESFEBER

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You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.

15. FLÂNEUR

Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.

16. GADABOUT

This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.

17. HIRAETH

Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”

18. YŪGEN

The karst peaks of Guilin, China
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This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.

19. SCHWELLENANGST

Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.

20. COMMUOVERE

Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.

21. HYGGE

This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

22. HANYAUKU

Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.

23. SMULTRONSTÄLLE

A patch of wild strawberries
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This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.

24. DUSTSCEAWUNG

This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.

25. VACILANDO

In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”

26. LEHITKALEV

Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.

27. KOMOREBI

Sun shining in the woods
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This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

28. RAMÉ

This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.

29. TROUVAILLE

Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.

30. ULLASSA

Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.

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