The song is thought to be based on Mitchell’s relationship with former husband Chuck Mitchell, from whom she takes her professional last name. In this, it’s in good company on a record that certainly reveals its writer, helping to build her reputation as an artist who typified a “confessional” style of songwriting. Yet despite a lot of personal content, there are deeper themes that pass from a tale specific to the life of its writer, and sail into the realm of the universal, and very often into the life of the listener, too.
I recently had the wonderful experience of interviewing Joni Mitchell for a Vanity Fair article. We talked about everything under the sun for about six and a half hours. In the introduction to our conversation, I wrote about skipping off school in Liverpool, where I lived between 1970 and 1973, to go and buy a ticket for a Joni concert.
I sent a message to my friend Tony Tremaco to let him know that I’d mentioned him in the article and he replied with a memory that I had not recalled. He said, ‘Did you tell Joni that you came round to my house the day Blue came out because my parents were away and a group of us stayed up all night until we had memorized every word and note on the record?’
I hadn’t specifically remembered this but I know that I spent a remarkable amount of time listening to Joni Mitchell records, often alone in the dark. At that age I hadn’t lived any of the experiences described in such remarkably candid songs but I had the idea that I might one day want to really understand what it meant to say, ‘all good dreamers pass this way some day/hiding behind bottles in dark cafes.’ I’d live to regret this desire.