Wednesday, 2 September 2015

'You stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear...'

'I met you on the Midway at a fair last year
And you stood out like a ruby in a black man's ear'
That Song about the Midway
Joni Mitchell

I love this vivid evocation of Joni Mitchell's meeting with Leonard Cohen from 'That Song About the Midway'.  As hugely talented fellow Canadian singer/songwriters, they were destined to meet and fall in love (they actually met at the Newport Folk Festival in 1967).  Leonard became the inspiration for several of Joni's songs although, intriguingly, her inspiration for these particular lines probably came from Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'

'It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear'

Music holds our memories.  I only have to hear Joni Mitchell singing to be transported to another time and place.  When I listen to 'The Gallery' or 'Rainy Night House', both attributed to her relationship with Leonard, I am 20 years old again and back in my room perched high above a ravine in my student house in Leeds, sharing with four girlfriends and learning to negotiate the complexities of life, love and relationships in between studying and voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on.  Literature, along with music, has always been a passion and this was the music that formed the sound track of those years. 

Listening to Joni's 'A Case of You', also thought to be about Leonard Cohen, instantly has me back on the overnight train from Madrid to London, travelling alone after a disastrous holiday with a college boyfriend who was studying there (but at least I got to see the Velazquez's at The Prado, so it was worth the trip in the end!), but the face I drew on a map of Canada during that endless, uncomfortable night, was that of my first love, lost to the charms of Montreal, never to return to the UK.