Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote ‘Both Sides Now’ where she discusses the upside and the downside of clouds, the give and take of love, and finally the win and lose situations in life. This was released on her 1969 second album Clouds and it was not a hit for her. Folk musician Judy Collins recorded peaked at #8 on Billboard’s Hot Top 100 chart and it went to #14 in the UK. Judy Collins’ track helped to bring Mitchell’s young name closer to the mainstream. Judy didn’t make any money from this recording, as all the commercial gains went to the songwriter, but she was happy to have a hit song. Al Kooper met Joni Mitchell in a bar, and he put Mitchell in touch with Judy Collins one night while she was asleep in her New York apartment. Judy was passed out drunk in the middle of the night when Joni started singing this song to her over the phone.
Joni Mitchell was on a plane reading “Henderson the Rain King”, a 1959 novel by Saul Bellow which examines the midlife crisis of Eugene Henderson, an unhappy millionaire. She came to this part in the book where Henderson is also up in a plane, on his way to Africa and he looks down and sees these clouds. Joni put down the book, looked out the window and saw clouds too, and she immediately started writing her first song. A change in perspective allows for a more well-rounded viewpoint in almost any situation and this will possibly give you a completely different way of seeing things. Seeing clouds outside the window of an airplane can be beautiful, but these same clouds are blocking the sun and they could be raining on others. Nothing could be more lovely that looking at “ice cream castles in the air”, but when these clouds rain on your parade, they are not so awesome.
Love only works if both partners can find a balance between give and take, and if this is broken, difficulties will arise and partners will feel that they are not getting what they want from their relationship. When you are in love, it is like a fairy tale and you feel like everything is full of “Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels”, but Joni was hurt in her past relationships and she knew that she had to conceal some of her feelings so she didn’t keep giving herself away. Saying, “I love you” is a big step in any relationship, as these words are life changing. People are going to change as they grow up and we all have to learn how to deal with this. Sometimes, “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day,” and even though we struggle to make sense out of life, every day that we survive is a win situation, as it is better than the alternative. In this philosophical song the singer’s senses are distorted, and she admits that she really doesn’t know clouds, love or life.
Roberta Joan Anderson started piano lessons at age seven, and she heard melodies in her head that she wanted to get out. At the age of 9, Joni contracted polio and this is also when she started smoking cigarettes. She was praised for her drawing skills and she attended an art college after high school, but only stayed for one year. In 1964, at the age of 21 she started performing in Toronto at local folk clubs and coffeehouses. Joni was a single mother, whose father an old boyfriend had left as soon as he heard of the pregnancy. Left with a young baby, which she was unable to provide for, she gave her daughter up for adoption, however she was able to keep this part of her life private for the majority of her career. In June 1965, Joni married musician Chuck Mitchell, but that dissolved in a year and a half, which started a dark period for Joni. In the mid-1960s she left for New York City where she recorded her eponymous debut album (also known as Songs to a Seagull) in 1967. The troubles that Joni encountered provided the primary source of her inspiration.
Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels the dizzy dancing way you feel
When every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way
But now it’s just another show, you leave ‘em laughin’ when you go
And if you care don’t let them know, don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all
Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say, “I love you” right out loud
Schemes and dreams and circus crowds, I’ve looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange, they shake their heads,
They say I’ve changed
But something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
Written for Glyn’s Mixed Music Bag #14 Monthly Challenge, May week 5.