It’s Christmas Day and Joni Mitchell has a gift for you — the first official music video for “River,” one of the classic songs from her landmark album “Blue,” which was released 50 years ago.
And there’s a special message from Joni at the end of the video, which was posted to her YouTube channel on Thursday:
“River expresses regret at the end of a relationship… but it’s also about being lonely at Christmas time.. A Christmas song for people who are lonely at Christmas! We need a song like that.”
And do we ever need a song like that this Christmas with the omicron COVID-19 variant surging across the country, forcing many people to suddenly alter their holiday travel plans to reunite with family and friends,
Here’s the full video:
Mitchell wrote “River “ at a time when she was going through the aftermath of the breakup of her relationship with Graham Nash and embarking on a tumultuous affair with James Taylor. The song finds Mitchell feeling sad that she won’t be spending the Christmas season with Nash.
The sparse piano accompaniment to her vocals at times references the winter song “Jingle Bells.” The lyrics tell of people cheerfully preparing to celebrate Christmas “and singing songs of joy and peace,” while the singer longs to escape the painful emotions she’s experiencing: Oh, I wish I had a river/ I could skate away on.”
The video, directed by Matvey Rezanov, features animation by Skazka Studios. It’s a series of moving black-and-white water-colors with a young animated Mitchell skating alone down a gray frozen river. Only at the end does the river suddenly turn blue with the surrounding landscape bursting into color.
Mitchell’s website notes that the animated video pays tribute to her “prolific creativity as a painter.”
Mitchell spoke about her painting when I interviewed her back in 2007 right after she released “Shine,” her first album of new music in nearly a decade. Mitchell was in New York for the opening of an exhibition of her art at a studio in lower Manhattan.
"I was a painter first, but I got waylaid by the music - first as a hobby to make my smokes at art school," she said. "At the time, I just sang folk songs but then a tragedy occurred in my life. I had a daughter and I gave her up and that puts a big hole in a woman that's hard to explain. I was destitute ... and three years later I had a career and money,"
"But I didn't like fame. ... I understood the price of it at an early age."
One song on “Shine” has proven prescient. “Strong and Wrong” grew out of the anger Mitchell felt about the war in Iraq, global warming, torture and illegal wiretapping. It’s one of her few overtly political songs.
"I was mad at the government. Mad at Americans for not doing something about it," Mitchell said. "They were so quick to impeach Clinton for kinky sex and so slow to do something about ... the country turning into Nazi stormtroopers, and it's still smoggy. ... It was all that losing freedom and everybody just kind of oblivious, like what happened in Germany."
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden paid tribute to Mitchell at a White House reception for the 2021 Kennedy Center honorees.
In her own speech at the White House event, Mitchell touched on her longtime health issues. “I always think that polio was a rehearsal for the rest of my life,” she said, referring to the disease she suffered as a child. “I’ve had to come back several times from things. And this last one was a real whopper. But, you know, I’m hobbling along but I’m doing all right!”
At the Kennedy Center Honors concert, Mitchell was feted with performances of her most beloved songs by Norah Jones, Herbie Hancock, Brittany Howard, Ellie Goulding and Brandi Carlile.
On Jan. 29, the Recording Academy will honor Mitchell as its 2022 MusiCares Person of the Year at a star-studded event, including performances by Herbie Hancock, Graham Nash and James Taylor, among others.
Mitchell has been nominated for 17 Grammy Awards and won eight, plus she has received a Grammy lifetime achievement award.
And on Jan. 31, she could win another Grammy, Her album “Joni Mitchell Archives, Vol 1: The Early Years (1963-1967)” has been nominated for Best Historical Album.
What are your favorite Joni Mitchell songs? Feel free to post videos and comment on what her songs have meant to you.