The road trip that inspired Joni Mitchell classic ‘Hejira’

The road trip that inspired Joni Mitchell classic ‘Hejira’

There are certain themes that seem to permeate the works of Joni Mitchell. Love and longing, loss and freedom – they each seem to crop up again and again in her songwriting, often intertwining themselves with one another. From the poetic excess of ‘A Case of You’ to the flirting, falling and freedom of ‘Help Me’, Mitchell’s lyricism is never predictable, per se, but there’s an undeniable consistency to its content.

But when Mitchell wrote and recorded her eighth studio offering, Hejira, in the mid-1970s, her lyrical inspiration had shifted slightly. Rather than pulling from romantic endeavours, the road became the muse for her ramblings. Freedom remained, of course, but Mitchell had added a new layer of meaning to the word. She had found freedom through a white Mercedes.

The early ’70s had been a busy time for Mitchell. At the dawn of the decade, she had released what would become her magnum opus: the enduringly affecting Blue. For the Roses followed, with the glistening Court and Spark and the slightly more experimental The Hissing of Summer Lawns just behind. After the release of the latter, Mitchell had a sudden desire to see a little more of the world.

She would accompany two of her friends on a road trip that took her across the States, exploring everywhere from the familiar Los Angeles to the furthest East Coast. As she ventured back through Florida and travelled along the Gulf of Mexico, Mitchell was careful to evade the attention of fans or press by donning wigs and adopting fake names.

“Meanwhile, nobody knew where I was,” Mitchell once recalled to Timothy White, via her official website, “I’d do those disappearing acts.” Considering her level of fame, both then and now, it’s difficult to imagine how Mitchell could avoid recognition, but she had mastered the art of dodging it. The folk legend recalled stopping by arcades in random towns, and “falling in” with the people who worked there, most of whom wouldn’t recognise her,

“They don’t know who you are,” she shrugged, “‘Why you driving that white Mercedes? Oh, you’re driving it across the country for somebody else.’ You know, make up some name and hang out.” It sounds like a dream encounter for most of us: stumbling into Mitchell on the way to collect your pinball prize, but, luckily, she evaded audiences long enough to collect some inspiration for her next album.

In the autumn of 1976, she delivered Hejira, an album that compacted all of those feelings of wanderlust, all of the awe that comes with road-tripping, into nine songs and just under 52 minutes. From the moment she playfully declares, “No regrets, coyote!” in the opening track to the lengthy ‘Song for Sharon’, the influence of Mitchell’s meandered wanderings is present throughout the album’s runtime.

Though it’s often still overshadowed by the beauty of Blue, Hejira is undoubtedly up there amongst Mitchell’s best records. It feels like an unfiltered, unconstrained diary of her time on the road, showing a different side to her songwriting style and providing the perfect soundtrack for aimless ambling across the States. Even when her wavered vocals feel, quite literally, far away, her characteristic warmth and familiarity remain present, too.

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(Credits: Far Out / Tidal) Mon 13 May 2024 22:00, UK There are certain themes that seem to permeate the works of Joni Mitchell. Love and longing, loss and freedom – they each seem to crop up again and again in her songwriting, often intertwining themselves with one another. From the poetic excess of ‘A…

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