(To Dick Cavett)
When you have spent three weeks as an in-patient following
abdominal surgery trying desperately with your physicians to balance the relief
provided by morphine with its gut stopping side effects, your mind drifts to
strange places. Mine did. It hasn’t stopped yet although both the ileus and
pain have abated. Thank you, God and docs.
When I finally crawled home on New Year’s Eve, I slithered
between my sheets, which smelled way better than the ones at the hospital, and
flipped on the first disc of a DVD called Dick Cavett’s Rock Icons. This may
take some ‘splainin’ for some of you.
In the late 1960s, this country was torn apart in a manner
that Ferguson doesn’t even remotely approach. There were real and perpetual
street riots. Blood really did run in the streets. Yes, even the Duke Quad was
tear gassed by the Durham Police on February 13, 1969. You can look it up.
President, a Presidential aspirant who was the first guy’s brother and THE
major civil rights leader of all time had been assassinated in the past 6
years. We were up to our ears in a war that made both Iraq and Afghanistan
combined look like the Granada invasion (over 10 times more Americans were killed
in Vietnam than in both of our recent conflicts). Most of the victims HAD NOT
volunteered to fight. They were drafted. One was my fraternity brother Warren
Franks, may he rest in peace. His name is on black marble plaque 9W on the V
that rips into the National Mall.
People in the arts were sort of stuck. While the music was
pounding in protest, it had few outlets to mainstream America. Even Mick Jagger
changed the words to “Let’s Spend Some
Time Together” or he would have been banned from future Ed Sullivan shows.
(Jim Morrison of the Doors told Ed to suck eggs and used the taboo word “higher”
when singing “Light My Fire.” When threatened with never being on the show
again by Ed, Jim said, who cares? We did Sullivan already).
There was one man who did everything in his power to walk
the finest of lines between the counter-culture, high art and humorous adult conversation
so as to illuminate his adult peers as to what their own children were
listening to and thinking. That man was (and thankfully still is) Dick Cavett.
On the Monday evening following Woodstock in August of 1969,
Dick had this guest line-up: Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Stephen Stills
(an ex-Buffalo Springfield) and David Crosby (an ex-Byrd). Crosby, Stills, and
Nash had played their first gig at Woodstock and the Airplane woke the crowd at
dawn on Sunday to “morning maniac music”. The Airplane didn’t let anyone down on
Cavett. Twice they dropped F-bombs when they opened with “We Can Be Together.”
was not at Woodstock. She did not have the money to hire a helicopter to get
her in and safely out and still make her appearance on the Cavett show Monday
evening in Manhattan. Her management judged that decision to keep the TV gig to
be in their client’s best interest. Not only was it, it changed my life forever.
I had known who Joni Mitchell was by then. Judy Collins had
popularized her song Clouds, retitled Both Sides Now, but Joni as a musician
was still pretty foreign to me and I was considered pretty hip back then having
run the rock concerts at Duke for two years and having predicted the logistic
disaster that Woodstock would be. As a minor concert runner, I could not see
how you could host a venue for several hundred thousand eating, drinking
and acid dropping humans over two days with that many bands in the middle of
nowhere. And I was right. It may have been a seminal event, but it did not make
musical history. It made political history. For musical history, go back to
1967 and The Monterey Pop Festival (see the great film Monterey Pop and just
watch the world and especially Cass Elliot discover Janis Joplin singing Ball
That post-Woodstock Monday evening on Cavett was the first
time I heard Joni Mitchell sing Chelsea Morning. This was a religious experience.
Disagree? Go find it on you tube Why do you think Chelsea Clinton is Chelsea
From then on I adored Joni and I do to this day. She is the
absolute essence of art. She is a brilliant painter. She is a gifted poet. She
makes up chords that she hears directly from God and then allows the rest of us
in for a glimpse. Her albums Blue, Court and Spark, and Hejira are beyond
masterpieces. They are simply as good as it can get for she hears sounds and
turns feelings into words as no one else can. If McCartney is our Mozart,
surely Joni is our Debussy. She IS “ a child of God” and she is “star dust and
she is golden.” She wasn’t at Woodstock so she brought it to us in words and
music before the mud had dried on Stephen Stills’ boots.
So for the next 24 or so hours back from the hospital I
watched you tube videos and DVDs of Joni Mitchell. And I felt better not just
about my belly, but about my life.
There are several things that I have been forever grateful
about having been born in 1948. Being 66 now is not among them. Being 16 when
the Beatles got here is number one. Believing in the myth of JFK was another.
But being present when the music of the heavens emanated from the six-stringed
contrails of “Amelia’s” guitar when Joni strummed those chords only she can
hear and being lucky enough to have seen the Shadows and Light Tour (look up
the live album on amazon) in 1982 is certainly high on my list. (Being a Duke
intern is also on the list. So is being an MD Anderson faculty member).
I have never met Joni although she is the number one person
on all of this Earth who I would choose to meet.
And if I did, all I would say was, thank you for sharing
even one bottle of A Case of You. Without you, “I really don’t know life at