The bed’s too big, the frying pan’s too wide

In Heroes, Music, Older women, Pop stars, Rock 'n' roll on November 26, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Joni Mitchell 

One of the great challenges of being a parent for me has been coming to understand that my daughter is not a Mini Me.

It seems quaint in retrospect but I had simply assumed she would love everything I loved as a child, which boils down to reading, drawing, playing with dolls and a well-stocked dressing up box.

Like all parents I lavished her with the things I craved as a child: a never-ending supply of paper, big packs of felt tips and coloured crayons, bookshelves groaning with wonderful things to read.

I should have saved my money. She’s just not into any of those things.

So I take great joy from one love we do share, which is an obsession with popular music. She’s as open to new experiences in that area as she is closed to books (she could have met Quentin Blake recently – couldn’t be bothered… AGGGH!)

She’ll embrace any genre of music and among her favourites, at the age of 11 and a half, are tracks by the Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, David Bowie, Madness, Kraftwerk and Dean Martin.

Then there all the ones we’ve discovered together, like Daft Punk, Gotye, Rihanna, Maroon 5 and Tinie Tempah. She’s made me appreciate Eminem.

But the most satisfying moment for me was when – with no pushy prompting from my side – she fell in love with Joni Mitchell’s Chelsea Morning, which I’d put on a playlist.


Being able to tell her that the song she so adores by Crosby, Stills & Nash – Our House – was written by Graham Nash about the actual house he actually shared with Joni Mitchell in Laurel Canyon in the late 1960s, was a golden moment in my life. Her eyes visibly widened…

ladies of the canyon prauls

I can still remember so clearly when I discovered Joni Mitchell myself, when I was exactly the same age my daughter is now, in the early 1970s.

My older sister was playing the album Blue on repeat and after a few days of hearing it, there was a lightbulb moment when my ear picked up the Jingle Bells refrain in the song River, in its intriguing minor key.


At my earliest opportunity I liberated the record (of course it was a vinyl record…) from my sister’s collection and took it into my bedroom, to have a better listen to that interesting bit and in the process lost myself in the whole album. She never got it back.

Joni Mitchell has been a constant companion of my life ever since. I know every line of every song on her first eight albums, from Song to a Seagull, through to Hejira, by heart.


And the thing that made me realise I’d found my soul mate when I met my best friend at uni, was discovering that she did too. We talked about those lyrics for hours. We still do.

So while Peggy and I might never be able to discuss favourite books the way I had imagined we would, I’m fairly sure we’ll share a love of Joni Mitchell’s music – and those amazing lyrics.


While tooling around the internet looking for some good clips to include with this post, I came across two interesting facts about Joni.

She turned 70 this month – happy birthday, Ms Mitchell – and there’s no ‘Personal Life’ section in her Wikipedia entry. Which makes sense when you think about it.

It’s all in the songs.

Which songwriter has written the soundtrack for your life?


I picked this video because she’s singing one of my favourite of her songs – Help Me, the most brilliant description of the first thrilling/terrifying days of a new relationship – but also because I was at this concert. Wembley Stadium 1974, the first big gig I ever went to.

A pilgrimage to see my idol.




  1. Suzanna Vega. Bought her first album when I was 20, still love the same songs 25 years later.

  2. For me, as a guy, the songwriter who has written my life is Brian Wilson, the main creative force behind the Beach Boys. “Pet Sounds” was written when he was just 23-24, and resonates with males in their teens and 20s, trying to find their place in the world. “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” is a song that I felt (and still feel) encapsulates me. “God Only Knows” is my all-time favourite song. I can listen to it over and over, and never tire of it.

    Although his later solo work was inconsistent, some of it, especially “Lay Down Burden” and the whole album titled “That Lucky Old Sun”, got me through some hard times.

    His well-documented mental health issues and family dramas show that even the famous and talented share the same struggles we all do in life.

  3. Joni Mitchell. Love Joni. Would play her tapes all day; and when I caught my ten year old son humming to the tune of Both Sides Now – I felt my job as a mother done! Carole King is another. Many thanks. Can’t wait to go home and play some Joni x

  4. Van the Man, Wavelength is the soundtrack to my uni days.

    • Oh… the Garden. One of the defining songs of my life. And the words ‘Chop that wood, carry water…’ often come into my head when I am groaning at the prospect of emptying the dishwasher yet again…

      • Ah the great meditations – finding beauty, purpose and satisfaction in life’s daily monotonies.

        PS I have assembled a DIY transplant kit if nuclear antibiotics don’t clear up that troublesome ear by Christmas. Give me the nod when u need/ready for me to dispatch. Please allow 10 days delivery time at this time of the year/Santa traffic. Bx

  5. Big Yellow Taxi was one of my earliest recollections of popular music and even when I hear it now, it’s not lost any of its charm for me. So it surprised me as well that my 7yo daughter also likes it.

  6. Dear Maggie, too many musical loves to choose from! Makes me think of writing wills and directions for one’s own memorial service – how to choose the right track.
    Of course the great thing about being a Joni M lover is that every album of hers is complete in its entirety so the person in charge of music for the day just gets to press start and it will be all beautiful. To avoid confusion for myself and others I think I might just request “sound of waves gently breaking on the shore” (instead of say “track 2, from the album TUK by Sigur Ros” (which is so profoundly beautiful, but if they get it wrong and choose track 3 attendees could be agitated and very confused).
    Re the BOOK thing with Peggie … P is still a child really; there will come a book (print/reader (but hopefully print)) and her whole world will open again – to literature this time. I am thinking that her enjoyment of the Eminem poetry/verse style will possibly lend itself to her reading more complex writing as school continues.
    The most important thing is that you have something you can love together and a shared love of music that can be such a profound and beautiful thing. B
    PS Perhaps its time for some selected pieces from Keats, Blake? Most importantly, please rejoice in the wonderful reality that you don’t have a situation at yours like the parent/offspring standoff re music in “Almost Famous”. Enjoy. BX

    • She can recite several of Eminem’s songs (are they songs?); word perfect. It’s unbelievable. I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as she appreciating words – and his word play is impressive – the source doesn’t matter. Joni Mitchell was my Homer, Eminem might be hers.

  7. I didn’t know that you loved Joni as much as me Maggie! My biggest kick came in 1975 when a guy told me that I looked like Joni. I still play all the above albums, and, I too know all the words. PS going well on the fast diet – thanks for telling us about it.

    • GREAT to hear that the fast diet is working for you. I’ve had to abandon it as I’ve had a lot of very dull health problems this year and have been on medication and I couldn’t take them without food (I did try – instant up chuck…), but I’m still hoping to get back to it. I know it works and I know how weirdly easy it is to do once you get your head round it.

  8. You now got me thinking about Emma Thompson’s character in Love Actually …” I love her and love lasts a lifetime “

  9. Oh the joy of finding another Joni Mitchell fan. Blue was a revelation to me when I was at Uni in the 70’s and remains my favourite album of all time. I know every word to every song on both Blue and Court and Spark. Her lyrics have remained relevant to me through the many stages of my life and I know I will still be listening to her through the stages that are ahead.

  10. This has sparked memories of long ago – 1970, at 12 years old, singing Both Sides Now with my friend Ursula at our primary school ‘graduation’. We also threw in Woody Guthrie’s Your Land for good measure. Just to balance out that righteous memory, I must add that in the same year, for our school fete’s talent quest, I did an interpretive dance in a purple leotard to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Ten Guitars.

    Those memories aside, probably Elton John provided the main soundtrack for my youth. I still remember being asked to stop singing along to Yellow Brick Road in Big W back in the days when they would put you in a booth with headphones when you wanted to preview a record (I’d had it on order for weeks).

    For musical alliances with my daughter, a cherished memory is her first concert at 9 years old, at the end of a protest march against old growth tree logging. We ended up in Federation Square (Melbourne) where the John Butler Trio was putting on a free concert. We were pogoing together with huge grins on our faces. It’s funny – she likes bands of today, but mostly they have the similar sound and resonance of those I liked (and still like) at her age.

    For her 11th Christmas, we bought tickets to the Pink concert. I took her into the moshpit. It seemed like the right thing to do.

  11. Dear Maggie,
    You wrote a marvelous column in the Good Weekend once upon a time on how your daughter didn’t like ballet or the Narnia stories, which had been your own joys as a child. I cut it out at the time, but have lost it. I’d love to read it again now I have 2 little girls.

    I also buy far too many books for them, and our idea of a nice afternoon together is to go to our local bookshop (with cafe!). They are both already well and truly addicted too. I bought a lovely little book called “Evangeline” for my 8 year old’s birthday in June, which she absolutely adores. She’s re-reading it at the moment, and has been asking me for weeks exactly WHEN I will email the lady to ask her if she’s going to write another one!

    Split Enz / Crowded House (and their solo stuff) – my high school and uni years. And Paul Kelly. The kids will let me play them instead of crap-FM, and occasionally even ask for them!

    • Ah Katherine you are so so lucky to have daughters who share your love of reading. Taking Peggy to a book shop or a library makes her skin crawl, because it’s become such a THING. She feels less than, so she lashes out and says she hates it. She does love David Walliams’ books, but only if she can read them on the kindle…

      It means SO much to me that your daughter enjoyed Evangeline. I loved writing it, but the publisher doesn’t want another one – which is a shame, because I already have the story in my head… Maybe one day.

      Please tell her I have regular chats with Evangeline and they’re all very well and happy. She loves her job. Kylie gets a bit overexcited in the dress designing studio sometimes and wants dresses to have flashing lights on them, but Vangie can always talk him down…

      Oh Crowded House. The sound track to my Sydney years… xxx

      • I showed her your message this morning. She doesn’t understand the publisher thing (of course, being only 8), and prefered to wonder instead what a new story could be about. She said she hoped it was about Evangeline, but “wouldn’t mind” if it wasn’t! Sounds like she might be waiting a while.

        For what it’s worth, I think your distributor is letting you down a bit. I went to two bookshops with good children’s departments & neither had it, or even had it on their radar. One got it in for me, & the lady said she thought they should get a few more copies in.

        I am looking forward to the David Walliams books – they look fabulous.

        OMG just realised I’m listening to you on the radio as I’m typing 🙂

      • Thanks for the feedback – publishing is such a massive industry now with so MANY books coming out all the time, every new book only has a short shelf life. If it doesn’t take off as a massive bestseller it then gets shunted over for the new. While I love love love real book shops and try not to buy from Amazon it does at least keep \ huge inventory older books available. x

      • Oh that’s gorgeous – flashing lights! I passed on your message to my daughter. She didn’t really understand the publisher thing (obviously) and preferred instead to wonder about the new story. She said she hoped it was about Evangeline, but “wouldn’t mind” if it wasn’t!
        Thanks Maggie

  12. We love frank Sinatra and Dean Martin here too. My 6 year old and I even have a core graphed dance we do to “you make me feel so young” completed with spins and dips and Fred and Ginger type moves. Unfortunately she doesn’t share my love of the ramones.

  13. My 2yo daughter (whose middle name is Peggy!) loves dancing and drawing but not so much reading, so I’m partially fulfilled in my dreams of what I thought she would enjoy. I can only hope that in future I’ll be able to share the music she will love as she grows up, and understand why it speaks to her, as music spoke to me.

  14. One of my first ‘tapes’ from a boy (you know what I am saying) had Joni Mitchell on one side!
    How fabulous you have this bond with your daughter, what does it matter if she is not so into books?
    They say smell is the most evocative of the senses, but for me songs and music really make me remember people, places and times in my life. And I am not even that much into music.

    • What an excellent boy he must have been! That tape thing was such a THING wasn’t it? Such a labour of love. Making a playlist doesn’t involve the same agony of selection.

  15. Loveliest post you have ever written, both because it is about Joni Mitchell, but more importantly, because your love and passion for your daughter shines through in every word. You provide such joy to many of us. Thank you.

  16. River

    ‘I wish I had a river
    I could skate away on
    I wish I had a river so long
    I would teach my feet to fly’.



    • I know… couldn’t agree more. The James Taylor version is amazing too – especially as they were LOVERS at one point, so when he sings ‘loved me so naughty, made me weak in the knees…’ I always think CRIKEY!

  17. Oh I love this and can relate to it as my 19 year old teen and I have Joni in common as well. Recently I introduced her to The Last Waltz and was telling her about the song Coyote, which I have always found intriguing wondering who it was written about. Half hour later she informs me it was written about Sam Shepherd…..(mystery solved via google!!) and that lead to a whole other conversation about Sam, elusive men, and great playwrights 🙂

    • There’s a book about Joni, Carly Simon and Carole King and it tells you who all the songs are about – they shared a lot of lovers… At first I was gripped, but then I found that knowing slightly took the magic away so I stopped reading it. HOWEVER the Coyote one did thrill me as it’s such a perfect perfect name for the gorgeous Mr Shepherd… ‘same eyes just like yours, under your dark glasses…’

  18. Im assuming it tells about all of them with the exception of “You’re so Vain” ?

  19. oh yes Warren… what a man… I thought Shampoo was oh, so glamorous at the time! would have loved to live in Laurel Canyon and have flowers in my hair in another lifetime 🙂

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