The Ballad Of Frankly And Joni

The Ballad Of Frankly And Joni
By Larry Fyffe

Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell shows the influence of Bob Dylan’s writing style, and of the themes therein enclosed. She reworks the latter from a female perspective.

“Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand
And rivers that ran through every day
I must have been mad
I never knew what I had
Until I threw it all away”
(Bob Dylan: I Threw It All Away)

In the above lyrics, Dylan makes  comparison of the deliberate destruction of the beauty of Mother Nature with his carelessness in discarding a comforting one, and all the regret that it brings.

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
til it’s gone
They paved Paradise
And put up a parking lot
….I don’t want give it
Why you want give
Why you want give it all away?
Giving it all, giving it all away”
(Mitchell: Big Yellow Taxi)

In the above lyrics, Mitchell compares the exploitation of Mother Nature with her endeavour at love; it being exploited by another for selfish gain, rather than there existing an equitable relationship.

Capitalist societies exploit the non-exploitive endeavours of others, declares Dylan:

“There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine
Ploughmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”
(Dylan: All Along The Watchtower)

While with true love, Mitchell feels like she’s the one doing the exploiting; however, nobody’s gets hurt:

“Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter
But you taste so sweet
I could drink a case of you, I could drink a case of you
Still be on my feet
Still be on my feet”
(Mitchell: A Case Of You)

Under the influence of Enlightenment writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the preRomantic poet William Blake, Dylan symbolizes the ‘other’, the female, not so kindly. He depicts her as a threat to the macho individualism of the male. Especially, a threat to male artists, like himself, who are concerned about being chained to a kitchen table.

“As I went out one morning
To breathe the air around Tom Paine’s
I spied the fairest damsel that ever did walk in chains
I offered her my hand
She took me by the arm
I knew that very instant
She meant to do me harm”
(Dylan: As I Went Out One Morning)

Joni turns the kitchen table around: the female needn’t conform to social norms either, she retorts; in general, women, being closer to Mother Nature than her male counterparts, are usually more capable of coping with the natural flow of life; it’s trials and tribulations.

“I stepped outside to breath the air
And stare up at the stars
Big dipper hanging there
….And I’m taming the tiger
(You can’t tame the tiger)
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
Here kitty, kitty
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forest of the night”
(Mitchell: Taming The Tiger)

Dylan, on the other hand, champions the independence of William Blake’s “Tiger”; even though it might end up getting shot by some trophy hunter.

“You burned so bright
Roll on, John
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
In the forests of the night
Cover him up and let him sleep”
(Dylan: Roll On, John)

Notwithstanding Ernest Hemingway, writer of the dark Existentialist novel “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, the title itself a quote from Metaphysicist poet John Donne. The last thing Hemingway shot was himself.

“For whom does the bell toll, love?
It tolls for you and me.”
(Bob Dylan: Moonlight)

But to Bob, more of a Romantic than an Existentialist, the words are just useful as a tool for a possible seduction. As his name suggests, Dylan leans towards the slightly sunnier poetry of the neoRomantics.

“Do not go gentle into that good night
…..Rage, rage against the dying of the light
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight”
(Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night)

Brightened up even further by a British band.

“If you dance with me tonight
We’ll catch the dying of the light
And we’ll catch the sun”
(High Flying Birds: The Dying Of The Light)

At all this macho rhetoric, Joni Mitchell pokes fun (at Blake, at Thomas, at the Beatles, at hip-hop, at herself) as she puns on an aircraft manufacturing company.

“I watched the stars chuck down their spears
And a plane went blinking by
And I thought of Anna
Wild dear
Like fireworks in the sky
Fire works in the sky
I’m so sick of this game
It’s hip, it’s hot
Life’s too short, the while thing’s gotten

Tiger, tiger, burning bright
(You can’t tame the tiger)
Oh be a nice kitty, kitty
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
Nice kitty, kitty
(Boring, boring!)
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
(Fight to the light, fight to the light)
In the forest of the night”
(Joni Mitchell: Taming The Tiger)


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