Thursday, November 30, 2017

You Kids Get Off The Hissing of My Summer Lawn

Today at the library I noticed a book called Joni: The Anthology (Picador, 2017), edited by a rock journalist named Barney Hoskyns.  It's a collection of interviews and reviews of Joni Mitchell and her work from the past five decades, and as a longtime listener if not exactly a fan, I decided to check it out.

It's a breezy read, and it reminded me why I'm ambivalent about Mitchell and her music.  (In general,  anyone who tells you repeatedly and insistently how deep they are probably isn't all that deep.)  But I was entertained by this bit in a 1994 interview with Hoskyns, about a song on her album Turbulent Indigo adapted from the biblical book of Job. Mitchell's then-husband Larry Klein had told her about his grandmother's delight in the Psalms,
and I thought, you know, 'I'm an old Bible reader from many years on the road -- the Gideons in hotel rooms, you know? It makes a scholar out of you after a while.' ... So I read the Psalms or intended to, but they're right next to the Book of Job.  So I took a scouring glance at the Book of Job, and then I got the St James' and the New Jerusalem and the Gideons, all three translations ...

Then I searched among them for rhymes, so I had to rearrange much of the thinking sequentially, but I don't think I disturbed the general idea or condition of this man being tried for his soul [189].
One thing that becomes abundantly clear from Joni: The Anthology is that Mitchell isn't much of an intellectual.  There's no reason why she should be: she's a fine, original musician, a talented painter, and has written some wonderful lyrics.  But I giggled at her reference to the "St James" version of the Bible, which reminded me of another person who'd claimed expert knowledge of the same nonexistent translation.  I presume she meant the King James Version.

The New Jerusalem Bible does exist -- it's a Roman Catholic translation, published in 1985.  But the Gideons?  The Gideons International is an organization of Christian laymen who give Bibles away, sometimes on the street and sometimes by placing them in hotel rooms.  When they can get around the separation of church and state, they distribute them in schools.  They don't produce translations themselves, so there is no "Gideons" translation as Mitchell seemed to think.  It appears that the Gideons have distributed various English translations, but every time I've encountered them they were giving away copies of the King James Version, and that seems most likely to be the translation Mitchell would have found in hotel rooms while touring.  That she thought the Gideons had their own version undermines her claim (which may have been somewhat tongue in cheek) to have become a "scholar" by reading Gideon Bibles on the road.  Pretty deep.