Actually About Lost Love

The thoroughly depressing Joni Mitchell song ‘River’ somehow became a Christmas classic.  It is set around the holidays and it is about a broken romance and a woman who desperately needs to escape her heartbreak and the painful emotional bonds so she repeatedly says, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”  ‘River’ is from her 1971 album Blue and it was never released as a single, however it holds second place amongst Mitchell’s songs most recorded by other artists.  The Ellie Goulding cover version of ‘River’ peaked at #1 on the US singles chart in 2019.

The song is said to be inspired by the 1968 to 1970 relationship that Joni had with fellow artist Graham Nash.  At the beginning of 1970, Joni’s relationship with Nash was falling apart.  At the same time, she was feeling uncomfortable with the success and attention of her musical output.  Needing to get away, she went on a trip to Europe (skating away on a river to escape the crazy scene).  While she was in Crete, she sent Nash a telegram to tell him their relationship was over.  Joni was sad because she would not be sharing this Christmas with her former partner.  The piano accompaniment borrows heavily from ‘Jingle Bells’, adding a festive touch to this song.

It’s coming on Christmas,
They’re cutting down trees.
Putting up reindeer
Singing songs of joy and peace,
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
But it don’t snow here,
Stays pretty green.
I’m gonna make a lot of money
Gonna quit this crazy scene.
Oh, 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.
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
I made my baby cry.
She tried hard to help me,
She put me at ease.
She loved me so naughty,
made me weak in the knees.
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
I’m so hard to handle,
I’m selfish and I’m sad.
Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby
That I’ve ever had.
Oh, 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.
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
I made my baby say goodbye.
Say goodbye.
It’s coming on Christmas,
They’re cutting down trees.
Putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace,
Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on.

Written for Christine’s Daily Writing Prompt: Love, Actually.

2 thoughts on “Actually About Lost Love

  1. Good song…I just never connect it with Christmas as much as others…I read Nash’s book…he had nothing but good things to say about Joni…

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    1. As Stephen Stills wrote, “Love the One You’re With”. Graham Nash met Joni Mitchell in Ottawa, Canada in 1967 when the Hollies were playing there and he noticed her at a party thrown for them after their show.

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