Will You Take Me As I Am: Joni Mitchell's Blue Period By Michelle Mercer
The title of Michelle Mercer's new book "Will You Take Me As I Am" is lifted from an older Joni Mitchell song ("California" off 1971's Blue album, to be specific). It is an appropriate title not only because it comes from Mitchell's "Blue Period" which runs, according to Mercer, from the Blue album until 1976's "masterpiece" "Hejira" and is the main focus of this book, but also because Mercer argues that this period of Mitchell's life, one of deeply personal songs before she branches out into storytelling and social commentary, is her attempt to get her fans, the critics, and herself to accept her for who she is.
Mercer uses a series of interviews that she conducted with Mitchell as her main source of information. This leads to the book feeling very autobiographical as Mercer allows Mitchell to tell her story without any outside commentary. Unfortunately, that also leaves the reader with a distinct, unsettling feeling that perhaps, just maybe, buried deep inside Mitchell's contract for this project is a clause that leaves her exempt from any real criticism.
It is just hard to believe that Mercer, a music critic by trade, cannot find a single nasty thing to say about any of the 70 songs spanning these 6 albums. The closest the book comes to a complaint is when Mercer recounts a recent incident in which Mitchell very loudly and altogether publicly shouts her down at a banquet calling her "ignorant." But Mercer, fast as can be, apologizes it away saying, in essence, that those are the breaks when dealing with a strong willed female. Uh huh. All that toe kissing aside, the book does find a way to work.
Mercer works hard to prove her theory that Mitchell was instrumental in giving birth to the personal songwriter movement in this country. Maybe the author overly glorifies her subject at times, but it is a fascinating idea that gives her space to psychoanalyze song lyrics and expound upon what that means to music history. And even though she is eager to dismiss the role of gossip in music criticism, she wisely doesn't avoid it all together. Mitchell did, after all, go steady with Graham Nash, Leonard Cohen, and James Taylor in this time period and to ignore the role they may have played on Mitchell’s lyrics would have been to neglect her theories and her readers.
In many ways this is also the story of how Joni Mitchell's "Blue Period" affected Michelle Mercer on a personal level. Just like many of Mitchell's songs this book often times relies upon naval gazing. This brings the book down to a very personal level, one that everybody can relate to. Of course not everyone has been affected by these albums, but everybody does know what it is like to be thunderstruck by a piece of art. The tone of the book is light and its structure is rather simple. Mitchell's own reflections make up the biography part of this book. Then Mercer steps in and does her best (and her best is pretty darn good) to explain to the audience where the lyrics most likely came from and how they affected the world at large. She does all this while maintaining the image of an extremely knowledgeable, trustworthy source. It just would have been nice to see her stand up to Mitchell on at least one occasion.
Author: Michelle Mercer
Publisher: Free Press
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