…it’s life’s illusions I recall

Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, my wife, Linda and I had the grand luck of doing the “Yuppie thing” in downtown Toronto, Ontario. There was a commercial slogan being splashed around about then: “Be Yonge at Bloor” referring to the city’s major intersection of Yonge (pronounced “Young”) and Bloor Streets… and that we were.

With Linda’s office down ‘round Yonge and Queen and mine up at Yonge and Bloor, the natural place to meet-up on any given evening  for cocktails and sushi, etc., etc., was Yorkville, with its diverse assortment of cafes, bars, restaurants, galleries, boutiques, clubs and cinemas.

These days your average commercial rent goes for $300 per square foot, making Yorkville the third most expensive retail space in North America, where well-equipped (or lucky) tenants can pull in upwards of $4,500 per square foot in sales. It’s the “now” place to go if you’ve got a steady income, and so it was when we were there.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Before the Bloor-Danforth Subway station was constructed in the ‘70s…and local retailers were displaced by Holt Renfrew and The Bay…and residential homes and smaller buildings were demolished to make way for lavish condominiums, office towers and luxury hotels, Yorkville was one of Canada’s great bohemian enclaves, dominated by beatniks – then hippies – and serving as a veritable breeding ground for world-class literary and musical figures, such as Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and folk singer, Roberta Joan (or Joni) Anderson, who would take the surname of her (short-term) husband, Chuck Mitchell.

Born in Fort Macleod, Alberta in 1943 to Bill and Myrtle Anderson, after the war (the future) Joni Mitchell’s dad, who had been an RCAF flight instructor, opted to make a run as a grocer in Maidstone, Saskatchewan. The two-block town with a single hotel was lined up along a rail line that ran past Joni’s bedroom, and each morning she’d sit up at the widow to watch the train go by. Years later her parents recounted how they’d actually met the train’s conductor at a party, who said the only thing he remembered about that town was “a house with Christmas decorations and a kid who used to wave at me.”

When, at the age of 20, that art-school drop-out kid arrived in Yorkville (on her first trip east), she had been well-accustomed to gigging on weekends as a folk singer to make ends meet.  But with no connections, and nowhere near the $200 needed to join the musician’s union, she busked on street corners and played in church basements and meeting halls.  To make matters worse, the city’s folk scene had some unwritten rules back in the day, whereby dues-paying veteran performers had exclusive “rights” to the best songs. Joni was outraged, not only was she not allowed to use her best traditional folk material, but the whole damned, deal conflicted with the ideals that the folk scene supposedly represented. And that’s when and where (the soon to be) Joni Mitchell resolved to write her own originals….

Today’s selection is a prime example of that resolution.  Written in 1967 “Both Sides Now” was first released on record by Judy Collins in 1968, reaching Number 8 on the U.S. Singles charts and winning the Grammy Award for Best Folk Performance.  It has been a Judy Collins signature song ever since.

Mitchell herself first released the song (minus the noteriety) in 1969 on her album Clouds, when she was 26.  Then, in 2000, at 57, she re-recorded an orchestral version for her album, “Both Sides Now” (later included in her compilation album, “Dreamland”) And – hands dow – that is the version we’ve chosen here.

“I was reading Saul Bellow’s ‘Henderson the Rain King’ on a plane,” she once said,  “and early in the book Henderson the Rain King is also up in a plane. He’s on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. I put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and I immediately started writing the song. I had no idea (it) would become as popular as it did.”


Both Sides Now

 Rows and flows of angel hair

And ice cream castles in the air

And feather canyons everywhere

I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun

They rain and snow on everyone

So many things I would have done

But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow

It’s cloud illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels

The dizzy dancing way you feel

As ev’ry fairy tale comes real

I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show

You leave ’em laughing when you go

And if you care, don’t let them know

Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now

From give and take, and still somehow

It’s love’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud

To say “I love you” right out loud

Dreams and schemes and circus crowds

I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange

They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed

Well something’s lost, but something’s gained

In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all

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