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  • Katie Newbaum

My Mom and Joni Mitchell

When I listen to Joni Mitchell, I feel like I am having a conversation with my mother. It’s hard to describe the feeling that comes over my heart at the sound of Joni. It’s familiar. It’s knowing. It’s the ache of nostalgia. The sweetness of her high notes is the comfort of my mother’s embrace. Mom would always hold me with my face in her neck, like she had my whole life. I had always been upset that I never grew taller than her, but now I’m grateful because I have the memory of her everlasting hug.


One time I drove with my mother from Los Angeles to Sacramento - about a six-hour drive. I had just finished college and she had driven down to spend a few days for graduation. As we drove back up north together, we listened to Joni’s album Blue. I remember distinctly when ‘Last Time I Saw Richard’ began to play. My mother sang every word. Something she rarely did. She was always more of a listener - an appreciator - but she sang every lyric of that hauntingly sad song. I watched her and imagined her doing that exact same thing when she was 20 years old. I wondered what she was remembering as she sang it. Had I known our days were numbered, I would have asked out loud.


She had a way of being mysterious sometimes. I wasn’t quite old enough to connect some of the dots, and I suppose we all subconsciously don’t truly want to know our parents as real people. Real adults with real problems and imperfections.


I wish I had known to pry. That those stories might be a life line some day. That I’d treasure any piece of her that I could get. But now that the sting of grief has slightly dulled, and a decade has passed since she left, I can still turn on Joni Mitchell - and there she is.




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