Published September 24, 2007
Joni Mitchell is back after nine years, and she’s on the attack. In the title track to her new album, “Shine,” Mitchell takes a nice swipe at the Catholic Church by name.
“Shine on the Catholic Church/And the prisons that it owns,” she sings. “Shine on all the Churches/that love less and less.”
Mitchell was never one to mince words, but in her triumphant return on Starbucks’ Hear Records, she doesn’t give an inch.
In “Shine,” she continues: “Shine on lousy leadership/Licensed to kill/Shine on dying soldiers/In patriotic pain/Shine on mass destruction/In some God's name!”
Mitchell’s album will be something of a revelation to young people who might buy it at Starbucks when it’s released Tuesday if they listen to it and read the lyrics.
Mitchell, the original singer-songwriter, presents herself in stark contrast to the dodo-brained warblers of this generation. She’s cynical and doesn’t mind expressing it.
In my favorite song, “Bad Dreams,” she begins by painting a happy picture: “The cats are in the flower bed/A red hawk rides the sky/I guess I should be happy/Just to be alive...”
But then the other foot falls, and it’s a doozy. When I first heard the next line, I actually laughed out loud. All I could think was, You tell ‘em, Joni:
“But we have poisoned everything/And oblivious to it all/The cell phone zombies babble/Through the shopping malls…”
And that’s just for starters. She observes: “You cannot be trusted/Do you even know you're lying/It's dangerous to kid yourself/You go deaf and dumb and blind.”
Mitchell plays nearly all the instruments on the album herself, and does all the singing. And while the lyrics are harsh indictments of modern culture, Mitchell serves them up with grace and style. Her jazz renderings and melodies are gorgeous, and she even manages to weave in hooks and choruses as she delivers the bad news.
This takes the bite out of what could have been stridency. A couple of listens, and songs like “Hana” and the clever “If I Had a Heart, I’d Cry” are hard to forget.
Mitchell joins Paul McCartney as the second Starbucks/Hear Music artist. How ironic: both albums will be getting plenty of Grammy nominations. They are each far superior to 99 percent of what’s come out of the major record companies this year.
Like McCartney’s “Memory Almost Full,” “Shine” demands some concentration from the listener; most modern pop music does not. You’re not sure where Mitchell is going, and the only way to find out is to stick around.
I interviewed Mitchell by phone many years ago for her “Night Ride Home” album. The interview was long, and I remember a discussion of coyotes in her woods.
During “Shine” I thought of her up late at night, burning cigarette ash about to fall in a clump on a table, cups of coffee everywhere (maybe it’s Starbucks coffee now).
And there’s Joni, re-interpreting Rudyard Kipling — someone almost no contemporary pop stars have heard of — into a reflection on her own career:
“If you can bear to hear/The truth you've spoken/Twisted and misconstrued/By some smug fool/Or watch your life’s work/Torn apart and broken down/And still stoop to build again/With worn out tools.”
She’s back, and not a moment too soon.
Rosie O’Donnell isn’t doing any interviews for her book, “Celebrity Detox,” not even with Oprah Winfrey.
On her blog, O’Donnell recalls her conversation with Oprah about “Celebrity Detox,” a book that this column had first before any syndicated TV shows.
(Both “The Insider” and “Entertainment Tonight” claimed to have copies of it when they didn’t, folks. They lifted quotes from the book from this column and the New York Post. Maybe those shows were confused after paying such big bucks to Larry Birkhead for video from his child’s first birthday party.)
But now, Rosie is speaking for herself. “Oprah is a force of nature,” O’Donnell writes in lower case e.e. cummings-style blogging. “Her invitation made me cry. Her kind words about the book reinforce what we all know to be true about her.”
However, O’Donnell won’t be doing Oprah’s show. “Celebrity Detox” will go into the world on its own, and all the money from it will go to charity. This means many questions raised in the book about Rosie’s childhood will remain unanswered for now.
“The book was hard to write,” Rosie blogged on her way to Los Angeles to tape more episodes of “Nip/Tuck.”
“Things I could barely say aloud alone in a room made their way to the computer through the key board or tape recorder. Writing is for me by far the most revealing medium to work in.”
However, she says: “I do not feel ready to discuss or defend the things I shared on those 209 pages. Read it yourself, take away what you need. Leave the rest. It is what it is.”
Yes, that was Derek Luke, one of cinema’s hot young actors, taking in a slice of real Ray’s Pizza (the actual original, on Sixth Avenue and 11th St.) at midnight Thursday with pals.
Derek just finished “Lions for Lambs” for Robert Redford, with whom he shares most of his scenes. He’s also got “Definitely Maybe” set for February 2008. Derek first got noticed when Denzel Washington cast him as “Antwone Fisher." ...
I am sorry to have missed mentioning the passing of Bobby Byrd last week. He died on Sept. 15 at age 73. Bobby was the main man behind James Brown, and often was uncredited for his huge contribution to Brown’s career.
It’s Byrd who sings “Get on up” during “Sex Machine.” He wrote a lot of James Brown’s classic hits and performed on all of them. He had as much to do with Brown’s success as the man himself. And Bobby had his own big hit, “I Know You Got Soul,” which is as funky as anything James Brown ever did. Another great, gone. ...
Back in the day, Corky Pollan — mother of actress Tracy Pollan and mother-in-law of Michael J. Fox — invented the Best Bets column at New York magazine. It was her creation and bless her heart. Corky used to be knee-deep in jewelry, clothes and weird inventions she’d found all over town. The city’s whole design gestalt for two generations came out of wonderful Corky’s excellent taste.
Corky is long gone from New York; all the “older” women were purged from the staff years ago. But Best Bets lives on. Next week, on Oct. 3 and 4, you can buy all the stuff they recommend from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. at Skylight Studios in Manhattan. Tickets are available at http://nymag.com/bestbets. There’s a charity tie-in with the New York City public schools and libraries. Maybe Corky will be there, for old times’ sake. ...