Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Joni and Kurt: Melders and Innovators

I just watched the first 20 minutes or so of the 2003 documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, and I had to stop and jot some thoughts down here.

At one point in the film, Joni Mitchell is talking about her early musical influences. She says that she loved the beautiful melodies and harmonies of American popular music of the 1940's, but that the lyrics were more direct and less poetic than she liked. When she discovered Bob Dylan's music, she fell in love with the poetry of his lyrics, and their honest, free and unlimited nature, where anything and everything running through one's heart and mind could be expressed. So she wanted to - or just sort of did - combine the elements of what she loved most about these two different musical styles. The rest, as they say, is history.

When I heard her say that, I thought of Kurt Cobain, to my own surprise. He sprung to mind because he was influenced by two very different styles of music as well - the pop music of the 1960's - forward, beginning of course with The Beatles, and the gritty, edgy music of early punk rock, from bands like Black Flag, The Ramones and Hüsker Dü. Like Joni Mitchell before him, he took the elements of these two musical styles and melded or blended them into a new style all his own and never before heard, containing the best elements of both.
It struck me as fascinating, because I never truly thought I'd ever see a clear similarity between these two particular, hugely talented and different musicians and songwriters from two such very different eras.

Then I started thinking about my own music...not directly comparing myself to either Joni or Kurt, mind you, but just how, like many music makers these days, I suppose, I draw on vastly different influences to create the songs I create. I listened to quite a bit of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell as a young kid, as my dad was constantly playing their records in our house. Later on, I listened to a lot of Beatles and Beatles-inspired pop music, early punk rock, and Cobain-led Grunge. When I sit down to write my music, I'm sure all of it's in there, and many various pieces come out at certain points, here and there.

It's not really possible to create a work of art, in any medium, that isn't influenced by some artist from the past, is it? What's that famous saying? "Good artists borrow, great artists steal"? I think that's one of the cool things I love about music, is that all music-makers also love listening to music, and we're all drinking in the magic contained in the work of other people, mixing it all up with the unique inspiration that can only come from us, and putting it out for other people to hear, maybe to become something that influences someone else some day.

Anyway...the music of both Joni and Kurt is so great.  And for some reason, thinking about the two of them together, and the surprising similarity of how they each crafted their own, unique sound, makes me smile.

Do you have something to say about the music of Joni Mitchell, Kurt Cobain, or another Melder and Innovator whose work you love?  Or about the role of influences in the creative arts in general? Leave me a comment here, I'd love to read what you have to share.

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