Rolling Stone once described Joni Mitchell’s voice as a “cold-water soprano,” and I’ve always thought that was a pretty apt description. Listening to her is as refreshing and beautiful as swimming in cool, clear lake on a hot August afternoon. Her voice pours over you like water. But as liquid and pure as her voice can be, she can seem as brittle and crackling as ice. But those moments–when her voice strains and breaks for the highest notes, when she lowers her voice to the barest whisper–those are the moments when the emotion is strongest. She is momentarily overwhelmed by the feelings her songs evoke. She is one of the finest singers in music history, something that is only magnified by the beautiful songs she crafts. Mitchell is a painter as well as a musician and songwriter; all her art is vivid and colorful, no matter the medium she chooses.
“California” is a love song to this weird and wonderful place where anything can happen. Even though her character is traveling through Europe in this song, you can feel the hot dry Santa Ana winds blowing out from East. You can feel the sun beating down on your hair, the sand of the beach between your toes. You can hear the traffic and the slap of flip-flops on the concrete, smell the exhaust from the buses. There’s taco meat cooking somewhere, everywhere. Everyone is beautiful, but no one wants to get caught looking. It’s the oldest dance in civilization–commerce and sex–on the newest, most plastic arena possible. “California” is about missing the state of mind that California instills in her residents, an unfathomable mix of reality and dreams.
“Will you take me as I am, strung out on another man? California I’m comin’ home.”