Celebrity Interviews, Part II: Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins
January 2, 2024 at 7:58 p.m.
...by Michelle Roedell, Editor, Northwest Prime Time
As I reported, my first celebrity interview was with Maestro Gerard Schwarz, conductor of the Seattle Symphony. My first "Notable Northwesterner" cover feature--our continuing series that began in December 2011--was Art Wolfe, internationally acclaimed photographer who had his own PBS television series at that time.
Since then, I've had the pleasure (and in one or two cases, the pain) of interviewing well-known people.
You may have noticed the image accompanying this post and naturally assumed that I have interviewed Joni Mitchell. Sadly, the interview was not meant to be, but I do have a wonderful story about a recent connection with the legendary singer-songwriter.
Before I continue, I want to say that while I didn't interview Joni Mitchell, I did interview Seattle native Judy Collins, who is closely associated with Joni. Judy couldn't have been more open or lovelier during the interview. She had a big hit with Joni's song, "Both Sides Now," which she first heard when Joni sang it for her over the phone. The two have performed together and spent a lot of time together at Joni's Laurel Canyon cottage -- along with some other famous musicians, Crosby, Stills and Nash. Joni was involved with Nash, Judy with Stills. Those relationships inspired many a song, reportedly including Joni Mitchell's 'A Case of You,' 'Willy,' 'My Old Man,' 'River.' Nash's 'Our House,' and several others are included on that list. 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' was Stills' ode to Judy Collins, her "Houses' was written about him.
When Joni Mitchell was awarded the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress last year, I was enthralled with the program. In addition to enjoying her music, which was performed by a variety of artists, the presentation was adorned with Joni's many paintings. Joni once said, "I have always thought of myself as a painter derailed by circumstance..." Those circumstances being her success as a singer-songwriter.
I spotted more than one cat in those paintings and came up with an idea.
A quick internet review of her art and photographs revealed that Joni Mitchell has had a lifelong love affair with cats. I can relate to that. My idea was to interview Joni Mitchell about the cats in her life and illustrate the piece with photos of her with her cats along with her many cat paintings.
One Joni Mitchell quote reads: "I've always hung out with the boys. I'm a cat among dogs." An interesting side note, in a New York Times article, I learned that Judy Collins has a pillow embroidered with the message, "One Can Never Have Too Many Cats."
I pitched my idea of a cat-related story to Joni Mitchell's press people. To my great surprise, I received a quick response. It read:
Thank you for the wonderful request. Unfortunately, Ms. Mitchell is not taking interviews."
This did not surprise me. I can't say that I was disappointed, because I didn't expect a response at all. For one thing, we're a tiny publication. More significantly, Joni Mitchell suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 and has had a long struggle to walk and talk again. She rarely gives interviews. I believe her first interview since the aneurysm was in 2020 and she has not granted many since then. Her 2020 interview with Cameron Crowe opens with a quote: "I was lying in bed last night thinking about getting a cat, and this guy shows up at the gate around midnight, meowing." A kitten, writes Crowe, leans contentedly against Joni's shoulder. "I hope nobody comes to claim him," she says, because of the notices about the kitten they have posted throughout the neighborhood.
I was touched that Joni Mitchell's press team so kindly replied to me, even though the answer was no. I wrote back a sincere thank you note that included my observations of the close relationship Joni seemed to have with her cats. I added a photo of my own cat as a kitten.
You can imagine how astounded I was. My response: "You can't know how honored I would be to receive such a gift. I am speechless."
The drawing, a reproduction but with a hand-embossed raised icon with Joni Mitchell's initials, arrived shortly thereafter.
Here it is--if you look very closely, you can spot four cats in the image.
In case you missed them, you can catch up on past blog posts with the links below: