"She was like a storm." —Leonard Cohen
Reckless Daughter is the story of an artist and an era that have left an indelible mark on American music.
Joni Mitchell may be the most influential female recording artist and composer of the late twentieth century. In Reckless Daughter, the music critic David Yaffe tells the remarkable, heart-wrenching story of how the blond girl with the guitar became a superstar of folk music in the 1960s, a key figure in the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 1970s, and the songwriter who spoke resonantly to, and for, audiences across the country.
A Canadian prairie girl, a free-spirited artist, Mitchell never wanted to be a pop star. She was nothing more than “a painter derailed by circumstances,” she would explain. And yet, she went on to become a talented self-taught musician and a brilliant bandleader, releasing album after album, each distinctly experimental, challenging, and revealing. Her lyrics captivated listeners with their perceptive language and naked emotion, born out of Mitchell’s life, loves, complaints, and prophecies. As an artist whose work deftly balances narrative and musical complexity, she has been admired by such legendary lyricists as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and beloved by such groundbreaking jazz musicians as Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock. Her hits—from “Big Yellow Taxi” to “Both Sides, Now” to “A Case of You”—endure as timeless favorites, and her influence on the generations of singer-songwriters who would follow her, from her devoted fan Prince to Björk, is undeniable.
In this intimate biography, drawing on dozens of unprecedented in-person interviews with Mitchell, her childhood friends, and a cast of famous characters, Yaffe reveals the backstory behind the famous songs—from Mitchell’s youth in Canada, her bout with polio at age nine, and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption, through the love affairs that inspired masterpieces, and up to the present—and shows us why Mitchell has so enthralled her listeners, her lovers, and her friends.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Decades into his infatuation with Joni Mitchell, David Yaffe gets to know the Canadian superstar quite well through a series of interviews. As this gorgeous and insightful biography shows, Mitchell’s life has involved more challenges than a season of Survivor—including polio, divorce, giving a child up for adoption, and a brain aneurysm. And despite or because of this, Yaffe concludes, Mitchell truly is the chain-smoking, anti-bourgeois provocateur she’s known to be. There’s something touching about how Yaffe doesn’t attempt to close the gap between himself and Mitchell, describing her intimately without abandoning the idea of her otherworldliness.
Factual Error in First Chapter
I was looking forward to this book since it received so much press and I have loved Joni Mitchell’s music for years and was looking forward to discovering the concepts behind her lyrics. On the very first page of chapter one I noticed a glaring error that has made me a bit hesitant to keep reading. The author stated that “Both Sides Now” was sung at the 2016 Oscars in tribute to so many creative luminaries we lost in 2016. What caught my eye was he mentioned Mary Tyler Moore who actually died in January of 2017. Granted that’s close to 2016 but the tribute was sung at the 2017 Oscars. I will probably keep reading but this was such an easy fact to check.
What a disappointment! There is so little here that is fresh or original; the same common details we’ve heard throughout the decades. We should never be expected tolerate the iteration of petty aggravations as literature. In my opinion, the author’s talent is insufficient to the subject.