Wonder & Mystery: Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter

After skipping a week I have taken a listen to Joni Mitchell’s 1975 experimental jazz fusion album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.

The guitar work is intricate and almost ethereal, the drum rhythms are seamless, the vocals are crisp and resonating and the bass isn’t how a bass normally sounds… but this is Jaco Pastorious, which explains it.

So why don’t I like this? Joni Mitchell is one of the most gifted and inspirational singer song writers ever.

For one this album, a double album from the box of Mystery and Wonder, is quite the experiment.

Normally I love it when musical artists experiment, when it goes right you get something new and fresh. For example: The Beach Boys and Pet Sounds, The Beatles and Sgt. Peppers, Hierophant (Shooter Jennings) and Black Ribbons, Queensryche and Operation: Mindcrime.

Sometimes experiments go awry such as: Lou Reed and Lulu, KISS and Music From “The Elder,” and almost anything from The Moody Blues.

Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is one of those failed experiments.

The thing is just… strange. The cover is an eye-stabbing blue and red with Mitchell as herself and as “Art Nouveau,” who is supposed to be based on a pimp that once complimented her when she walked down the street.

By the way Art on the cover is Joni in a kind of black face.

I will repeat that.

Art on the cover is Joni in a kind of black face.

This was 1975 and that depiction had none of the subtlety or wit that Robert Downer Jr had in Tropic Thunder.

What I want is Big Yellow Taxi and what I get is the 16 minute 21 second “epic” that plays on the entirety of side two, “Paprika Plains.”

I don’t even like Mitchell’s version of her own song, I’ve always preferred other artists’ cover of it.

In fact I would like an Entire Album of covers of just this one song by multiple artists, it would be titled They Paved Paradise and those artists would be:

Lake Street Dive, Iggy Pop, Dave Matthews (just Dave and an acoustic), Mastodon, Weird Al (his first and only straight cover), Lorde, Valient Thorr, Shooter Jennings, Bridgit Mendler (my daughters love her), Snoop Dogg (or Lion or whatever) and some supergroup comprised of Dave Grohl, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks and Elvis Costello.

I am totally serious about that.

It’s not all bad, in fact I think it would be awesome as a trippy instrumental album and we could forget the lyrics from “Talk to Me” on side one:

Or we could talk about power…

About Jesus and Hitler and Howard Hughes

Or Charlie Chaplin movies…

Or Bergman’s Nordic blues…

Please just come and talk to me

But we can’t because it goes on, on the aforementioned “Paprika Plains,” in the middle of the song the lyrics aren’t sung but still printed as it is to represent a “dream state” and we get:

Like a phoenix up from ashes now

A blanket figure springs

With a fist raised up to turquoise skies

This whole album is what happens when a respected and influential artist gets to do whatever the hell they want. Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter is to Joni Mitchell what Lulu is to Lou Reed.

I got nothing else, if I think about this any more I’m going to go eat my emotions with Oreos and Marsh Vanilla Ice Cream.


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