I Used To Be A King

Portrait Of Joni Mitchell

A couple of decades back, I couldn’t hear Joni Mitchell.

I mean, I literally could not hear her. Her songs would come on the radio, I would change the channel. If a song came over pumped in music at a public place, I would find as quiet a corner I could and pray it would be over soon. Friends would put on her music, and I would leave.

The cover of “Blue” can still give me the shakes when I’m in the wrong mood.

As I talked with Barbara Bailey Hutchison about this, she was disappointed with me.

When telling the story out loud, I usually say, “GRAMMY-WINNER Barbara Bailey Hutchison,” incorrectly assuming that (a) her name will mean anything to most people (it should mean something to a lot of people, but we’ll address that later) and (b) people will be impressed that I was in a one-on-one conversation with a Grammy winner that went deep enough to discuss my dislike of Jon Mitchell.

When she was starting out her folk-singing career, Hutchison regularly covered Mitchell. “You’d have hated me,” she said. “Half of my set was Joni Mitchell songs.”

I kept trying. And to my surprise, I finally was able to connect. With “Court and Spark.” I liked it a bunch. I was surprised.

So the next time I talked with Hutchison, I excitedly revealed, “Hey! I’m really digging a Joni Mitchell album!” “Which one?” she asked. “ ‘Court and Spark’,” I responded with delight.

And she exclaimed, “That’s the most commercial one!”

And I thought, “Oh, so THAT’S how it feels when I do that to someone else. Boy, am I an asshole.” I’ve too often been quick to criticize people for which music they prefer by given artists. I can point to at least a half-dozen places on The Big List where people would see a title and say something like, “That’s about the time I quit listening …”

(To be fair, when I recounted this story to Hutchison, she said she hadn’t meant it the way I’d taken it. I’d taken it as Hutchison saying I’d taken the easiest way to Mitchell. Hutchison was actually encouraging me to delve deeper, because she knows my taste.)

“You’re mean when you’re loaded, I was raised on robbery.”


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