Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Repost - Jay and the Americans - Joni Mitchell's Blue

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When I was six years old, I did a television commercial for St. Joseph's Baby Aspirin that was particularly popular in prime time. A rumor began to circulate that I had died in some kind of tragic accident. My mother got hundreds of letters and phone calls from total strangers: "So terribly sorry about your loss." But it wasn't me.  It was another young boy in a different aspirin commercial, and as it turned out, he wasn't dead either. Everything is coincidence. Everything. Let me illustrate.

High above the grid, my father sat with a cup of coffee, his feet dangling from the side of a billboard, gazing out over a basin still filled with fog and night. You can't paint when it's damp. He looked up into the cosmos, into the luck and the endless happenstance, savoring that cup of Joe. It was 1971. I was ten. He perused his schematic, this one all blues: a quart of Endless Blue, Blue Yonder, Blue Stencil, Sistine Blue, and Pompeii; two gallons of dark blue 123505, same as the night; one gallon of bright white.

Two of his best billboards already graced the boulevard that year: L.A. Woman, that iconic hot point silhouette of Jim Morrison crucified on a phone pole, all in earthy browns; the Stones' Sticky Fingers and now Joni Mitchell's Blue. He'd made no name for himself, that wasn't even the goal, but nowadays thousands of commuters gazed up at him or his work or him at his work. More than once someone was rear-ended because somebody else was looking up at my father and not at the road. He got a kick out of that. He was a master forger, like someone out of the Renaissance, like one of Titian's toadies, and that was good enough for my old man.

But not for my mother. That was the thing, that's the point of this apostrophe. Nothing was ever good enough for my mother. Not her career, not my father, not the house. They were happy and dissatisfied, satisfied and regretful, all and nothing at all, boundless and limited, opposites attracted by bad timing and dumb luck. It's how they met; it's how they parted; it's how they said their last words to one another. 

By midday he was working on the face, Joni's high cheekbones in silver and Endless Blue. By three he was finishing up, a detail here and there, smoothing a line, adding a dab of white or a little splotch of cerulean that wasn't on the schematic. 

"That’s the record I did," my mother said. We were turning left onto Laurel Canyon from Sunset. Joni Mitchell's Blue was all but complete, a masterwork; a man on scaffolding was finishing up a white Reprise logo in the corner, instead of signing his name. My mother sang backup on three songs that hadn't made the final cut, but Joni said she had a future. She didn't; all she had was resentment.
"That’s dad."  My mother turned left. "You're not going to stop?"

"You want me to stop?"

"I want you to stop."
Big argument about stopping, about turning around. At a light, I got out of the car and started walking down the canyon sidewalk. "You get in the car. You get in this car." Her voice trailed off.  It was probably the first defiant moment of my life.

"Can I come up?" I asked him.

"You can't come up."

"I need to talk to you."

"I’m coming down. I’m done." He was every shade of blue. He had blue in his hair. His lips were blue; he'd stick a paintbrush in his mouth to flatten out the bristles. One of his fingers was silver with powder blue dots. My father was hesitant. "How'd you get here?"

"Got out of the car." I told him the story. He kind of chuckled. My mother pulled into the parking lot behind us. You would have thought my father yanked me from out of the back seat while it was moving. She couldn't have been more livid, more enraged.  My father kept looking at me in a quandary. We didn't know what she was saying, as if she were speaking in tongues, until she said, "Fine. Is that what you want?  You want him, fine. I’m done, I’m done. I’m absolutely done." She got into the car and drove away. "You want him?" she said like she was giving away the dog.

Jay and the Americans is available all over the world!
Kindle too!

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