Joni Mitchell went to New York City to buy herself a mandolin, get her fortune told, play bingo, and watch the ice skaters in Central Park in “Song for Sharon.” I went to New York City in 1976 to buy Hejira.
I listened to the album this week, and it moved me all over again. I loved this record as a teenager, a lot, and I like seeing how, in some fundamental ways, I’ve not changed over the years.
It’s common for people my age to look back on their high school years with embarrassment or relief that they’ve moved so far beyond all that, and I am not immune to the sentiment. In many ways (sexual orientation and religion come to mind), I was completely clueless — of course I was, we all are at that age — but still, how nice to see that there are certain parts of me that have not changed.
Or maybe it’s more that I’ve gone and traveled about, metaphorically and actually, learned a bit about life and love, but have come full circle on some things, returning older and wiser to where I began. The Joni Mitchell album brought that to mind, which seems appropriate since it’s all about life and love and travel. The title she chose, Hejira, means “journey” (and refers more specifically to the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD), and she wrote the songs while driving solo across the United States, something I would go on to do. Maybe she planted the seed.
Listening to the record now, I’m transported back to where I was then and what I was feeling. At the time, the record seemed more of a mystery — I found Joni’s stories fascinating, and I wanted to live and feel some of what she sang about. I had no experience with love or travel to speak of. Now, 36 years on, I’ve got road maps from more states than she has in “Blue Motel Room,” and the songs about love and longing make some sense. No regrets, coyote…
Even so, despite the intervening years and experience, the album resonates with me now in much the same way as it did in 1976. I can’t really describe what I mean by that; it’s just a feeling, a nice one, knowing that this ever-changing person I call me still retains bits of what was there so long ago, some kind of soul or essence that remains consistent for life. Joni Mitchell also gets credit, of course, for creating this artwork that transcends age and time.
I’m enjoying a similar reaction to a lot of the records I’ve listened to from that era of my life: the things I liked or didn’t like about the music, the ways I relate to the records, are much the same now as they were then. Not always, but usually…which means either that I was a very mature record-listener as a teen or that I’m very immature now. Either way, I like it.