That Time Joni Mitchell Brought Gordon Lightfoot's House Down With 'Coyote'
This summer, Joni Mitchell will release The Reprise Albums (1968-1971), the second installment of her archive series. It contains reissues of her first four albums to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Blue — her final release on Reprise before she signed to Asylum Records.
Mitchell’s Seventies albums on Asylum are so legendary that the expectations are high for the next archival package. Will there be a single box set dedicated to Court and Spark, or will it be grouped in with The Hissing of Summer Lawns? What about the severely underrated For the Roses? It’s unclear how much is in the vault, but hardcore Mitchell fans will be waiting.
Then there’s Hejira, the 1976 masterpiece where she delved more fully into jazz. The album features some of her most moving songs, like “Amelia” and “Song For Sharon,” plus contributions by bassist Jaco Pastorius. Hejira‘s lyrical clarity was already taking shape the previous year, when Mitchell appeared on Bob Dylan’s all-star Rolling Thunder Revue Tour; in the video above, she performs “Coyote,” which would become the album’s opening track, at a visit to fellow Canadian songwriter Gordon Lightfoot’s house during the tour.
There’s so much to be said about this video, which appears in Martin Scorsese’s documentary The Rolling Thunder Revue. Mitchell sits in her beret and gold earrings while Dylan accompanies her in a fur hat. They strum their acoustic guitars as Roger McGuinn squeezes in between them. “Joni wrote this song about this tour and on this tour and for this tour,” McGuinn announces proudly, sitting back to assist on guitar. Lightfoot looms in the background in a tank top, observing next to his questionable floral wallpaper. Every line Mitchell drops is like a bomb packaged with a bow: “He picks up my scent on his fingers/While he’s watching the waitresses’ legs.”
“Coyote” was inspired by Sam Shepard, whom Mitchell was briefly linked to during the Rolling Thunder tour. “Sam and I had a flirtation,” she said in biographer David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter. “It was like we were twins. The stars were really funny. He was born November 9 and I was born November 7. I was born beneath a really powerful sky, and I think he was, too. He’s multi-expressive. He’s a playwright and a singer and an actor and he’s good at all of them. What I think was happening was that I was forming sentences like he would’ve. Everything was creating an aversion. But for me, on coke, I found him very attractive.”
Hopefully Hejira will be reissued on a future archival box set, ideally bundled with other records from her jazz era — Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Mingus, and Shadows and Light. “Hejira was an obscure word, but it said exactly what I wanted,” she told Rolling Stone in 1979. “Running away, honorably. It dealt with the leaving of a relationship, but without the sense of failure that accompanied the breakup of my previous relationships. I felt that it was not necessarily anybody’s fault. It was a new attitude.”
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