Thursday, February 4, 2021

Joni and Zappa?

The posts from
AM form a continuum, the Zen of things. I'm on a Laurel Canyon kick of late, but usually about the Americana bloc and not the bluesy underbelly of the same scene. The posts often imply that the Joni/James side of the spectrum never crossed paths with the Jim/Frank contingent, which simply wasn't the case. To me, you'd be hard-pressed to find any camaraderie between the realism that is Joni Mitchell and the surrealism of Zappa – but what do I know?

Case in point: November 13, 1970, the Fillmore East, NYC.
Joni Mitchell left for Crete in the early months of 1970. There she broke up with Graham Nash in a way akin to breaking up in a text message. She’d spend the remainder of her trip pining over the "Our House" days, writing songs about Graham like "My Old Man," and meeting people like Carey who she would immortalize in song. Out of those days, of course, came Blue. Returning to the states, Joni was dating Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood, saxophonist and singer for The Mothers of Invention. Joni would attend the Mothers’ gig at the Fillmore and, with coaxing, found her way to the stage. Said Sherwood, "Joni sat in with us during the second show and we improvised a thing that was really good - ending it with her singing 'Duke of Earl.' She came on stage, we did a few chords for her and she started reciting this poem: 'Penelope Wants to Fuck the Sea..." (Penelope was the wife of Odysseus – so yeah, Joni's genius.)

Mark Volman of The Turtles (Flo from The Mothers of Invention) said, "'Penelope Wants to Fuck the Sea' was introduced by Joni Mitchell as a poem she had written that she could never perform, live or otherwise. Joni was basically a real funny person. I had lived up the hill from her on Lookout Mountain and knew her from our singer-songwriter nights in Laurel Canyon. Her image was huge and her fans relied on her to maintain her status as the "earth mother to the stars." Frank always got a kick out of stars joining us and sinking down to our level. Grace Slick came up on stage one night and humped everyone on stage, albeit with her clothes on, as a gesture of her freedom to be weird. When Joni recited the poem, Frank directed the band through a series of noises and musical sounds that followed the poem to its climax. Joni had this huge smile on her face when she finished as though she had really broke some rules and Frank really laughed. I mean with a huge big ol' grin he laughed out loud. Frank was someone you loved to perform for."
Zappa said, "…And we did a few chords for her and she started reciting this poem which began 'Penelope wants to fuck the sea…' And the audience did a double-take, 'Yuuunk!...' and a hush falls over the Fillmore… 'Joni Mitchell?'"
Cool beans, huh? The moral of the story is, the twain shall meet.

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