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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Revolutionary Says Revolution Has Gone Too Far

Like rolling a stone down a hill and being surprised by what happened next. This Joni Mitchell interview is getting a lot of play for knocking Bob Dylan down a few pegs. Never been a fan of mumbles, and to her credit Mitchell was one of the less atonal musicians of the 1960s. After she had finished savaging the Minnesota Minstrel, the Canadian songstress took a shot at Madonna:

Railing against the "stupid, destructive" era we live in, Mitchell took aim at the Material Girl. "Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point."

Hmm. And I'm the embittered reactionary. Mitchell's vituperative rant suggests what I've suspected for sometime, that many of the cultural Jacobins of the 1960s are appalled by the culture they helped create. Free love morphing into cold promiscuity, liberation of old moral restraints becoming a license for anarchy in social relations. Ortega y Gasset, whom reactionaries like me are fond of quoting, observed:

When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism. And let us not deceive ourselves, this is what is beginning to appear in Europe under the progressive rebellion of the masses. The traveler knows that in the territory there are no ruling principles to which it is possible to appeal. Properly speaking, there are no barbarian standards. Barbarism is the absence of standards to which appeal can be made.

That was in 1930. Those who lack standards tend to become "stupid and shallow." What Gasset saw in the streets of Europe eight decades was only a prelude. The fascist worship of force and will was replaced, or reformed, a generation and a half later into another form of will worship. The fascist in jackboots, and barefoot hippie, would seem to be opposites, one advocating violence and the other peace. Yet both reject reason and surrender to emotion. The fascists whom Gasset abhorred were a bit more organized, and submitted their wills and desires to that of an absolute leader. Their goal was power over others. Organization and ambition gave them the ability to seize much of Europe for a time. Had they succeed western civilization would likely have died. For all the economic strength of North America, we are intellectual dependents on European thought and mores unto this day. A non-European West would have been something akin to the Byzantines. Back to Gasset:

Under Fascism there appears for the first time in Europe a type of man who does not want to give reasons or to be right, but simply shows himself resolved to impose his opinions. This is the new thing: the right not to be reasonable, the "reason of unreason."

The fascist's direct assault on liberal civilization, was also an epistemological attack on the preceding Age of Reason. The counter-culture of the 1960s, peacefully, picked up the emotionalism of the fascists. While highlighting some of the more contested cultural dogmas of the era, premarital sex being the most famous, the counter-culture preached freedom. It was not freedom from the state, those among them capable of articulating political positions leaning heavily to the Left, but freedom from the hum-drum necessities of earning a living and respecting private property. The Five Man Electrical band expressed this anarchism rather, er, eloquently:

So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right 

To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in 

If God was here, he'd tell you to your face, man you're some kinda sinner

Ms Mitchell was in a similar vein when writing:

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique

and a swinging hot spot

Little be it for me, here, to defend the mediocrity of most of post-modern architecture, which lurches from banality to crude stunt-making. A pink hotel may not be an improvement over whatever was paved over, but some people clearly regarded it as so. Paradise to some is paved over. Land usage debates aren't really the point. It was a cri de coeur against industrial civilization, and its impositions on "free spirits." Previous generations had regarded such "spirits" as shiftless wanderers, they became in 1960s the new ideal. Doing what you feel like is certainly liberating. Living a life on the spur of the moment, however, becomes its own trap. The long-term is rejected as restrictive. I want it now. I want it my way. It's not selfishness, though it is often mistaken as such, as no self can possibly develop from so short-term a mentality. The hippie was "stupid and shallow" to begin with. Those who came after Joni Mitchell simply cashed in on the stupidity. They're continuing to do so.

Posted by Richard Anderson on April 29, 2010 | Permalink


Yes Joni has her own take on the world, tree museums, parking lots, DDT..free verse just like Uncle Bob but see the lines from which her song derives its title "Big Yellow Taxi"
its her lover leaving her and slamming the door behind him

That's what the" Big Yellow Taxi" is all about: Her old man had enough of her militant eco whining and moved out, never to return. And she didn;t appreciate him til he was gone.. This song is not primarily about paving over paradise = its about a bi polar hippy fascist wallowing in romantic regret the next day..

Late last night
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man

Posted by: 419 | 2010-04-29 7:40:53 AM

It's refreshing to see something akin to personal responsibility being discussed here, Publius. That side of the libertarian coin has been neglected on the Shotgun for some time.

Frankly, Joni Mitchell is one of the last baby boomers I would have expected to publicly lament the current state of society, given her longstanding and highly vocal rejection of the traditional mores that helped stabilize it; perhaps she has, at long last, come to appreciate the significance of what she helped to set in motion. Many other boomers don't, and never will. Just one more thing to pin on their parents.

The salient question is: What is she going to do to help fix it?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-29 11:29:51 AM

Shane, the more salient question is what are you and I going to do to fix it?
She may choose to do nothing, not necessarily an option for either one of us, is it?

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-04-29 11:48:10 AM

We will have to help fix it regardless, Ed. But since this thread is about remorseful beatniks having second thoughts about turning the world upside-down, it seemed relevant to wonder whether they would turn those thoughts in action. Certainly they had no trouble with it at one time. What about now?

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-29 1:47:03 PM

What about now indeed?
Well, to use Joni as an example, she is pushing 67 now so the world of her youth has dissolved and with it the need to change it; she also has beaucoup bucks so she really doesn't need to interface very much with the real and present world anymore either.
Joni and her beatnik cohorts continue to sell records in ever-dwindling numbers, so her impact is pretty minute at this time and, like her record sales, will continue to diminish.
So, in other words the short answer is no, don't expect them to do anything but live out their years.
To me, the real insight in this article is how surprised these artists are 40 years on as to what a runaway they created in our society.

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-04-29 2:22:05 PM

I am not sure what to say, This is cause for a lot of thinking.

Posted by: Sandy Green | 2010-04-29 3:12:15 PM

Frank Zappa was never swallowed up in the hippy swindle, the dope boink and complain circuit -- in fact he cruely lampooned those attitudes whenever he had the chance.

There were always a handful of artists who see the limitations of certain societal directions - at the very time such carp is going on. It really is time for a flick the filth of the 60s off western thought and move on,

From Harry Potter I share:

" it takes a brave man
to stand up to his enemies,
and an even braver man
to stand up to his friends "

Posted by: 419 | 2010-04-29 3:18:16 PM

419... it wasn't just the hippies and the 60's.
You should include the hipsters of the 30's and 40's, and the beatniks of the 50's. The hippies of the 60's just built on what preceded them, and like publius has noted, the stupidity just keeps rolling on. In a previous era these vagabonds would have died of starvation.

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-04-29 9:48:41 PM



Posted by: mani | 2010-04-29 10:58:58 PM

In a previous era these vagabonds would have died of starvation.

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-04-29 9:48:41 PM

We are talking about a teeny minority here. Most of the "Flower Children" grew up and had a more or less normal life. Once the novelty of being constantly broke wore off, they had no choise. I believe that the latter generations had a higher sense of entitlement than the hippies and todays teens have the highest in history.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-04-29 11:32:18 PM

choice damnit

Posted by: peterj | 2010-04-29 11:34:19 PM

Mitchell's work reveals a far more complex thinker than those commenting here seem to understand. For forty years she's been grappling with the complexities of our society and the way in which we interface with it. For God's sake, she was never simply peddling the virtues of "free love." Even in the early work she was illuminating its highs and lows. Her comments on Madonna will come as no surprise to those who listened to Mitchell's scathing indictment of 80s materialism in her work of that period. Yes, she's a staunch environmentalist, but to peg her as merely some kind of hippy revolutionary is to display astounding ignorance. As for what she's done lately, I suggest you listen to her most recent album, "Shine," or go see her most recent ballet. Trust me, dear reader, Joni's way, way ahead of the curve.

Posted by: David | 2010-04-30 1:02:23 AM

First of all, David, trust is earned, not given away. Second, none of the other attributes you attribute to Joni are incompatible with being a hippie revolutionary. Her loathing of the 80s is understandable, considering that it marked a wholesale rejection of the very values she had so actively promoted in the 60s; for some reason those who so resoundingly rejected traditional mores during the Age of Aquarius were surprised and hurt when their own values were soundly rejected by the Me Generation 20 years later.

Joni's work by this time also did not find much of an audience, and she became so despondent that, like Caroline Goodall in The Princess Diaries, she stayed home and painted. Today her voice, ruined by years of smoking, is considered well past its prime. She's had a few modest successes recently, but nothing to match her former reputation.

Oh, and we'll decide for ourselves who's "way, way ahead of the curve" and who isn't, thank you. If you wish to fawn at her feet, fine. But don't label other people ignorant if they ask for more substance. All it does is reveal your own bias and intolerance.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-30 6:59:59 AM

I was into the third paragraph before I realized it wasn't a Knox Harrington post. BTW, was there a moral to this story?

And Shane, Joni isn't a "boomer".

Posted by: dp | 2010-04-30 8:17:40 AM

peterj: "Once the novelty of being constantly broke wore off, they had no choice."

Very true. Most young men, being posers anyway, will do whatever it takes to get laid by idealistic young women. In other words, we grow up, some sooner than others.

Posted by: Ed Ellison | 2010-04-30 10:33:37 AM

She is by many definitions, dp, although I admit it's a close squeeze. Specifically, she belongs to the "blessed ones" subcohort of the boomers, i.e., the one that lived through the era of greatest prosperity and security and was already well-established before the turbulent 1970s. This demographic also happens to include my own parents.

It's true that many of the people associated with boomer culture, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gloria Steinem, are not boomers, but Joni Mitchell Mitchell is, if only just barely. Certainly she acts the part, which is arguably more important than whether she was born in the first or second half of the 1940s.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-30 10:34:49 AM

Spot on, Publius, spot on.

Posted by: Mike Vine | 2010-04-30 1:26:47 PM

Hey, Shane, you're right about one thing. You don't know me, and so need not trust me. That being said, Joni did not "resoundingly reject social mores" during the 60s. The early Joni, broke and pregnant, sought out a marriage so that her child could have a father. She did not choose abortion. She made a "traditional" and responsible choice. When her marriage failed, she reluctantly placed the child up for adoption. During the war, Joni frequently entertained the troops. She was a favorite on the Johnny Cash Show, hardly a radical venue. Much of her work speaks to issues of personal and social responsibility.

Frankly, Shane, I think you're ignorant of the depth and breadth of her oeuvre, and are just forming your concept of Joni based on a handful of songs (which, though iconic, are in no way a full representation of her work). As for her painting, Joni's been a visual artist throughout her life. She didn't just take up a paint brush because of lagging album sales. And even if she had, how would that undermine anything that she's said?

As for the quality of the timbre of her voice as she has aged, what does that have to do with the lyrical content of her songs? For that matter, what do her album sales have to do with it? Are you suggesting that artists like 50 cent, Jay-Z, or Ke$ha are somehow more insightful than Joni Mitchell is because they're moving more units?

For the record, I didn't label you ignorant because you "asked for more substance." Indeed, what you asked is "what is she going to do to help fix it." "It" being the current state of society. The answer I provided to you is clear. She is going to do that which she has always done: creating her art. Her new ballet has been touring the nation this year. Joni is an artist. That is her function in society. If you wish to evaluate her contribution, it's up to you to listen to what she is saying. But you're not paying attention, Shane. You're smug and comfortable in your pigeonholing. You don't know Joni's work. You're ignorant.

Posted by: David | 2010-04-30 3:12:31 PM

First of all, David, the fact that Joni was broke and pregnant without a husband at all was a sharp departure from the prevailing mores of the time, and even today, getting pregnant without a husband is considered pretty stupid, if no longer a permanent ticket to ostracization. The responsible choice would have been to not get pregnant at all. By the way, the marriage ended in divorce after a year and a half, she gave the love child away shortly after the wedding, and critics, while praising her innovativeness, have called her style “uncompromising and iconoclastic.” And this is your idea of “traditional”?

Secondly, you can stop throwing the word “ignorant” around like candy. It makes you look like a pretentious blowhard, especially in light of your remarkably weak and fact-poor rebuttals. Joni’s environmental radicalism is well known. Once she fought with a salmon fishing company that wanted to build a hatchery near her property. Then she spoke out against offshore oil drilling, or even allowing tankers to ply the west coast, lamenting what it would do to her view. Of course, that hasn’t stopped her, or any other environmentalist for that matter, from using petroleum-based products, which includes computers.

Thirdly, I never discussed the lyrical content of her songs. You’re the one who seems to think they’re so important. This thread is about Joni Mitchell, the person, not Joni Mitchell, the musician—about what she has said off the stage, not on. I brought up her voice and her post-70s failures only to point out that she is a bit less than the resurgent superstar you seem to paint her as, even if she has encountered modest success more recently. In your admiration, you cast the brush a good deal too wide—and also strayed from the topic. Unlike you, I generally don’t look to celebrities and entertainers at all when I seek deep thinking on a subject. They are professional emoters. Their track record when it comes to rational thought is, to put it charitably, a 500-car train wreck.

Fourthly, your answer was not “clear” in the least. You didn’t even address the question. You just sang Joni’s praises, and concluded with a curt little declaration that anyone who failed to explore Joni’s work deeply enough to suit you was simply ignorant. I’ve got news for you, David—art doesn’t solve problems. High crime rates and dysfunctional families are not mended by plucking guitars and dancing in ballets. And even if art is her vocation, that doesn’t stop her from helping on the side. In fact, many celebrities seem only too eager to help—the problem is their ideas are often awful. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that people don’t want marriage counselling or childrearing coaching from a demographic that considers a three-month marriage a silver anniversary and whose kids start smoking tobacco (or worse) at the age of nine. Nor you, apparently.

I’ll sign off with some advice, David. A big part of the reason the Left is losing the culture wars is because far too many of its icons are obnoxious, insufferable, pompous, self-righteous, educated far beyond their intelligence, and worst of all, bigoted. Their scraping, self-important tone is an instant turn-off. And in spite of all their talk of tolerance, there is little room in their world for those who don’t think as they do. You can take down your halo now, son, because it dissolved into rusty lace long ago.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-30 4:15:56 PM

You're funny, Shane. But still ignorant. And I say that with love.

Posted by: David | 2010-04-30 4:22:22 PM


by Joni Mitchell

Everybody looks so ill at ease
So distrustful so displeased
Running down the table
I see a borderline
Like a barbed wire fence
Strung tight strung tense
Prickling with pretense
A borderline

Why are you smirking at your friend?
Is this to be the night when
All well-wishing ends?
All credibility revoked?
Thin skin thick jokes!
Can we blame it on the smoke,
This borderline?

Every bristling shaft of pride
Church or nation
Team or tribe
Every notion we subscribe to
Is just a borderline
Good or bad we think we know
As if thinking makes things so!
All convictions grow along a borderline

Smug in your jaded expertise
You scathe the wonder world
And you praise barbarity
In this illusionary place
This scared hard-edged rat race
All liberty is laced with

Every income every age
Every fashion-plated rage
Every measure every gauge
Creates a borderline
Every stone thrown through glass
Every mean-streets-kick ass
Every swan caught on the grass
Will draw a borderline

You snipe so steady
You snub so snide
So ripe and ready
To diminish and deride!
You're so quick to condescend
My opinionated friend
All you deface all you defend
Is just a borderline
Just a borderline
Another borderline
Just a borderline

Posted by: David | 2010-04-30 4:27:42 PM

thats a nice hymm she wrote
slamming all those bad people

Posted by: 419 | 2010-04-30 5:35:54 PM

Another reason you're losing the culture wars is because of your non-arguments, David. Sticking your tongue out does not a convincing case make. Maybe it did in the 60s, but not today.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-30 5:46:44 PM

P.S. And the same goes for singing. Otherwise your eco-heroine could just sing that oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico right back into the seabed.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-30 5:48:36 PM

Shane, I'm surprised that you don't think popular culture affects politics.

Posted by: David | 2010-04-30 6:17:12 PM

Oh, it does—for the worse. As I said before, entertainers are professional emoters; they're not renowned for their critical-thinking skills. And you are like them, I think, because you keep telling us how you feel, how surprised you are, who you consider "way, way ahead of the curve." To them and to you, your emotional reaction to something is far more important than the facts of the matter, and your responses reflect this.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-04-30 8:33:21 PM

Shane, I feel that you're not even attempting to engage in any kind of reasonable discourse.I feel it deeply. The reason people like you and Glenn Beck are losing the culture wars is that you are narrow-minded and nasty. I'm going to write a song about it.

Posted by: David | 2010-05-01 1:56:34 AM

Let us know how it turns out, David.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-05-01 9:34:33 AM

Joni Mitchell already wrote a song about this
so you are a tribute band to a girl ?
and you want to affect popular culture with music ? maybe Dave, dye your hair first-
its the weekend
you can do it

Posted by: 419 | 2010-05-01 10:31:44 AM

The reason people like you and Glenn Beck are losing the culture wars is that you are narrow-minded and nasty. I'm going to write a song about it.

Posted by: David | 2010-05-01 1:56:34 AM

Losing the culture wars ?? Seems more like you are giving Shane one hell of a compliment. Glenn Beck has written 6 best selling books (5 #1 sellers) and has one of the highest rated shows on television. Perhaps you could explain who you think is winning the culture wars.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-05-04 9:41:03 PM

The right seems to be gaining the upper hand in the United States.
1.) Gun control is dead in the great majority of states.
2.) Support for the death penalty seems to be stable at around 70% or even rising(while the number of yearly executions seems to be stable at between 45-50).
3.) The use of corporal punishment in public schools is actually increasing(and some legislators have called for reinstating it in some of the states that now ban it).
4.) More Americans now consider themselves pro-life(backed by several recent polls). In yearly Gallup polls between 2004-2009, the percentage of Americans who morally disapproved of abortion rose from 40% to 56% while the morally acceptable group fell from 50% to 36%. Americans now oppose partial birth abortion by about 75%. They overwhelmingly support 24 hour waiting periods(78%-19%),parental consent(76%-19%), and limiting abortions on demand to just the first 7-13 weeks depending on the poll.
5.)On religion, a gallup poll showed that believers outnumber nonbelievers by about 92%-5% in the U.S. By 61%-31%, Americans support mandatory school prayer in public schools. 77% support the posting of 10 commandment displays in schools and government buildings.3/4rds support a moment of silence in schools. 71%-28% support the Bible being studied in history or english classes. 82%-14% support having the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. 83%-14% support public schools celebrating religious holidays. 77%-15% support prayers at public school commencement ceremonies.
6.)Americans by a roughly 2 to 1 favor tougher laws to deal with the tide of illegal immigration(such as the new Arizonia law). Also, Americans now favor by 84%-11% making English the official language(as currently is the status in 30 states). 74% support printing election ballots and all other government documents in english only.
The only area where the left seems to be gaining any traction in the culture wars is on the issue of homosexual rights.
I'm glad to see the Canadian gun registry come to an end. However, I fail to see how the culture war in Canada is turning in favor of the right. I know that Harper's government is passing the first legislation in Canadian history that actually rolls back some of Canada's excessive gun regulations. I also know that Harper has had some success in pushing a tough on crime agenda. My question is what other areas of the culture war do you see the Canadian right making progress (in either legislation or the court of public opinion)?

Posted by: Eddy | 2010-05-06 7:20:44 PM

My question is what other areas of the culture war do you see the Canadian right making progress (in either legislation or the court of public opinion)?

Posted by: Eddy | 2010-05-06 7:20:44 PM

Good question, but I believe "progress" is a generational marker. Almost all adults are set in their ways and ideals by the time they hit 30 and the only thing that moves them left or right are excesses by either side. The up and coming generation will always question and usually challenge the status norm. Upbringing and parental influence is also a major factor as are economic and living standards. Left or right usually depends on social status and what the future holds for individuals. Poor...left, rich....right, middle class.....the wild card.

Posted by: peterj | 2010-05-10 11:17:23 PM

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