Monday, May 09, 2011

Hejira Spring


Hejira ~

a journey . . .

. . . the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 which marked the beginning of the Muslim era; the Muslim calendar begins in that year

. . . a cross country trip from Maine to Los Angeles by Joni Mitchell

. . . her album of that name written on that journey in 1976

. . . the title track of the album

Albert Camus wrote: "What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country... we are seized by a vague fear, and the instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. This is the most obvious benefit of travel. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being... There is no pleasure in traveling, and I look upon it as an occasion for spiritual testing... Travel, which is like a greater and graver science, brings us back to ourselves."
~ Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935-1942

I love to travel, but I agree with Camus in this note. When visiting places away from home, it is as if I wake up with new, more expectant skin. Especially in the somewhat familiar strangeness of Paris, more than anywhere I have been, every sense is alert, intense, as if I am a china cup full and ready either to spill, or crack in the quake of each encounter.

Joni Mitchell is a traveler, always in some vehicle. She loves the wind from Africa blowing through a village on Crete under the moon, but soon gets back to missing her familiar white linens and California scenery. To, and fro, she goes. I don't know how many times I've listened to this song in the last couple of weeks on my drive to and from work on straight Meridian Road, farms opening like wings on either side. Countless times. It embodies just at this moment of the world how everything is everything, while everything is also nothing, and I think very importantly, how nothing is also everything, in the cycle of our life . . . between the forceps and the stone. Her melancholy minor melody, the dark tones, the strings touched in variance like the fragrance of parfum et fromage, her love of Paris that is always there even if unspoken, her freedom, her longing for the road — sometimes in strength and vulnerability as a hitchhiker, her concert tours where she is not always comfortable in her astonishing success, that clear voice sparked, like a car's red-eyed tail light at dusk on the Champs Élysées, or the lit end of a cigarette.

In Paris in May, the wind blows up the Seine, tearing horse chestnut blossoms from trees like snow, and our eyes fill with allergic tears, blinding every walker heading toward the setting sun. We weep in our human weakness, unable even to look upon the light, blinking, trying to wipe our eyes clean. Maybe it is necessary to filter that radiance from too much visibility. Maybe that much light would take us too early to the stone.

It's nice to listen to her sing in the YouTube below while reading her witnessing words. Or, just load it and close your eyes.

by Joni Mitchell
I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some café
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today
In our possessive coupling
So much could not be expressed
So now I'm returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed
I see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a ballroom girl

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Now here's a man and a woman sitting on a rock
They're either going to thaw out or freeze
Strains of Benny Goodman
Coming through the snow and the pinewood trees
I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones
I know no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone

Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tributes to finality to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There's the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years
We're only particles of change I know I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I'm always bound and tied to someone
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some café
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way

© 1976; Crazy Crow Music

Rue St-Louis-en-l’île, Paris, spring 2003

 Musicians on Pont St Louis, Paris, spring 1997

Champs Élysées, Paris, spring 1997



Daniel Chérouvrier said...

I'll try to be as porous as I can tomorrow afternoon when I'll stroll along Paris streets.
Three or four times each month it's a pleasure to walk in Paris without any goal or schedule but the train time departure to get back to Champagne.

Ruth said...

Daniel, . . . the spring light through the sieve of you. Then you can carry it back to Champagne where it will radiate back out . . .

steven said...

ruth this is my favourite of joni's albums and my favourite song of that album. i came to it through the bassist - jaco pastorius - who at the time was playing with weather report. i had heard joni of course but hadn't really listened. from that point i went back through her catalogue and discovered the details of her journey. "i see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world . . . know no one's going to show me everything, we all come and go unknown". phew. the echo of every place i've heard those words pours through me. steven

Ruth said...

Steven, and I was led to Jaco Pastorius from this song of Joni's. The blend of instrumentals in this recording is so moving for me, combined with the lyrics, and her voice, I experience that ecstasy that only music provides, and only in certain performances and symphonies of the heart. I'm so glad you feel this connection too. said...

Thanks again, Ruth...only on your post I noticed how beautiful the album cover is...(such a loss with cd's).

Brendan said...

Great post -- Heijira is a great road album. By then I'd left town, hit my own road hard enough that my listening changed, too. I have both Court and Spark and , which were Mitchell's inland, suburban albums, when she was deep in "the petty wars." I love Pastorius on this album -- everyone does -- interesting too that Jaco lead Joni to Mingus, the same way that Lyle Mays of the Pat Matheny Group (who counts Hejira as one of his faves) led me to Bill Evans. The great, grand travellers, defected from love, out on the pure road of art. It's always art and heart, or art versus heart, isn't it? Always the one just finding out what the other always knew ... By the time Hejira came along, I left that smooth LA-jazz/late Southern folk style for harder, big night music of the Stones and Sex Pistols and Roxy Music: lust for love at top volume. Thanks for gentle homecoming. I'm tempted to download the album today. - Brendan

Ruth said...

Obrigada, João. Yes, it is a loss, and even more so now that we are downloading songs and albums without needing to see a cover at all. I agree, this one is an inspiration.

Ruth said...

Brendan, yes that's right, there's that Mingus collaboration, which I've heard pieces from. What you say about your own musical journey helps me realize that although I associate certain music with eras of my life, my tastes haven't evolved much, though I am discovering jazz now, thanks in big part to Lorenzo. And that most recent opening feels something like freedom. This album is really stellar, right up there with Blue, For the Roses and Ladies of the Canyon for me. I don't have Court and Spark, the next one after those. Enjoy your mellow return to this time.

The Bug said...

I can't watch the video at work - I'm smiling in anticipation of checking it out when I get home this evening.

I love to get away so that I can see my life through a new lens every now & then. I'm feeling hemmed in these days - I'll have surgery on my hip in August & I have to save up my vacation days. There won't be any jaunts up to Lake Erie, or to the Land Between the Lakes, this summer. I'll just keep imagining how great NEXT summer will be when I'm pain free :)

erin said...

thank you~

everything is everything

and to twist Camus just a bit,

What gives value to life is fear. our skin newly alive and alert - i'll go into my next few days holding fast to this.

you make me want to soar. i love to travel, just myself, reduced as lowly as i can be.


GailO said...

I have to thank you today Ruth for reminding me of a book I had stashed away many years ago and have now dug out...of Joni Mithchell's complete poems and lyrics. Listening to this poem being sung is something I haven't done in a long time...I had most of Joni's albums and a few as I have been reminded to download them to my ipod so I will listen to them is hard to keep up between the forceps and the stone!

Thank you also for guiding me to think about the lyrics....unassisted I tend to just listen without thinking and it is a luxury to have this "study group"....The lines that immediatly jumped out at me are the same you mention...
"We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone"

Ruth said...

Dana, I am sorry to hear that you need surgery, and that you have to use your vacation days to get it done! I know you must be looking forward to no pain, but that is quite a cost. I hope you can find ways to "get away" somehow, for moments and hours.

Ruth said...

Erin, it is a frightening thing you say. I think I understand, yet I am quite inadequate at communicating it today. I myself am reduced to the point almost of no words. Getting out, even just under the sky, where birds do the speaking, sounds good at the moment.

Ruth said...

Oliag, you have some great books. I find myself focusing on different lines of this song each time I listen. She is such a muse to me.

The Solitary Walker said...

I adore Joni, as you probably know - and this, as for other readers, is one of my favourite Joni records.

Incidentally, I was lucky enough to see Jaco Pastorius with Weather Report in Birmingham many moons ago. It's a concert that's etched itself indelibly on my memory.

Ruth said...

Robert, I am not surprised that you love Joni, and maybe I did run across that information in our walks around the blogs.

As for Jaco Pastorius, I have been in love with his bass playing on this album since it came out, but I never heard him elsewhere until today after Steven, Brendan and now you told me about Weather Report. Since I didn't venture out of the folk/rock scene back in the '70s, I completely missed Jaco's fame and demise. He also played bass on Joni's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter ('79) and then Shadows & Light ('80), which has several songs from Hejira with Jaco.

Listening and watching him play harmonics today has been a treat.

Friko said...

I'd like to say something clever and meaningful like your other correspondents, but all I can say is that this post and Joni's song go together like strawberries and cream and that I am looking forward to shedding my winter skin and getting into my travelling, summer skin, even if I don't travel very far outside myself.

Life is a never ending journey delighting us with reasons to be newly fearful and feeling the prickling of our skin every singe day.

Ruth said...

Well, Friko, I like your comment a lot, every bit as much as those of the other fine commentators. It feels fine to be outdoors, doesn't it? We just rode our bikes 8 miles in shirt sleeves (finally), we heard red wing blackbirds and bullfrogs, saw two white tailed deer run through the woods, and pulled in our drive near a turkey vulture who was cleaning up a raccoon carcass.

ds said...

So much interconnectedness in my blog reading tonight: "between the forceps and the stone." That's it. That's everything. Mitchell's lyrics, your beautiful descriptions, the perfect quote from Camus: to travel and feel "feverish but porous." Yes. The skin itches to feel that.

Thank you.

Dutchbaby said...

I wholeheartedly agree with Camus' quote about travel. Embracing that vague fear is what makes the difference between a good trip and a great trip. The hyper-awareness that results is a gift of travel.

Wonderful tie-in with Joni Mitchell's music. My favorite album of hers is "Court and Spark". I can relate to her lyrics in "Free Man in Paris":

I felt unfettered and alive
There was nobody calling me up for favors
And no one's future to decide

It must have been a great reprieve from stoking that star-maker machinery.

Ruth said...

DS, I was overwhelmed with the thought last night while reading War and Peace of each individual life who has ever lived! All worlds within worlds within worlds.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, how many artists have found reprieve in Paris? The anonymity and freedom must be great solace for them. The city and all its pleasures inspiration.

And you, I wonder if you were ever afraid of lions and other creatures when you slept in your African tent . . .

I'm off to see your photos of South African giraffes . . .

Jeanie said...

Ruth, any time you do a post you connect to Paris, you know I'm right in your grasp. When you combine it with Joni Mitchell -- well, what could be better? There is much richness in these lyrics and much with which I can identify. More often than not in life I have been a solo traveler, and sometimes I miss having that road companion. But sometimes, it really is the best -- your own schedule and time and pace. Another beautifully written post. Thanks.

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

What gifts in this post. I was not familiar with the Camus quote and much less with his equating of travel and fear, or his claim that "there is no pleasure in travel", which he views more as an "occasion for spiritual testing". His reasoning is compelling, and his coupling of feverishness and porousness as twin states of the traveller do hit home with my sense and experience of what it means to travel.

Nor was I familiar with the lyrics of Joni Mitchell's remarkable Hejira, a profound journey in its own right. The truth is that your pairing it with the Camus quote will forever color and enrich my reading and feeling of this poem-song. The match seems perfect; she even sings "I'm porous with travel fever" as if she had just read the same passage, and there is trembling fear in her. And perhaps the mention of a "stranger" can be taken as another nod, intentional or otherwise, to Camus.

And the image of the Seine-side blinding blizzard of horse chestnut blossoms is the crowning touch. We travel far and wide, and deep inside, thirsting for beauty in our lives... and then, sometimes, it comes to us unexpectedly in all its raw merciless power, and we almost can't deal with it and must turn our gaze away.

* said...

Beautiful Camus quote, beautiful poem, beautiful pictures, beautiful everything!

PS: I've been hit with wanderlust this week, coincidence, eh?

Arti said...

This is just hard to fathom, the amazing journey of Joni Mitchell, considering she was born in the small town of Fort Macleod, in rural Alberta, Canada. Yup, that's my province, and even in 2011, the population in that community is 3,000. So I can't imagine when she was born in 1947, how many were there. From such an obscure root emerged such a talented, well travelled (literally and figuratively) international musical icon. I'm proud not only that she has roots in our province, but she had spent time in the Alberta College of Art right here in our City of Calgary. Thanks for posting about her and the heart-stirring song.

On another note, did you see Temple Grandin the HBO Movie? No I haven't seen it but looking at the cast, esp. Julia Ormond, now I must get hold of it. Thanks for your suggestion.

Ruth said...

Jeanie, I think you and I need a trip to Paris, and soon. As we've discussed elsewhere, a combination of time with a companion and going solo is just right for us. I can't believe it has taken me so long to figure this out!

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I wish I could say I discovered the Camus quote by reading and knowing Camus and making the connection with Joni's song. I found it quoted on her web site for this song. She does a fair amount of this kind of allusion, I've always told myself I would investigate certain lines that sound familiar.

As you will be traveling very soon, I imagine that these traveling words might come to mind, from Camus and from Joni. I hope for you, though, that there will be many pleasures on your trip, and no allergic eyes from blossoming trees!

Ruth said...

Terresa, thank you. Well I hope you can satisfy your need for travel soon. Me, I think I'll be going a bit too much in the coming days ... But Paris, I need a trip there.

Ruth said...

Arti, I really love her story, and your personal connection with it. I was fascinated a few years ago when she reconnected with her biological daughter, Kilauren Gibb, whom she had adopted out. Joni's song "Little Green" is about her.

Yes, we watched the HBO movie Temple Grandin. I didn't know there was an older one. Claire Danes and Julia Ormond were tremendous, and I love David Strahairn in it too. It is so inspiring, and your kind of story, I think.

Hyde Park Poetry Palace said...

stunning blog.

Glad to discover your poetry talent,
Share a free verse with us today, bless you.
Keep up the excellence.

Stratoz said...

greeting a new day with Joni. Thanks for the gift.

Unknown said...

I have conflicted emotions regarding travel. I love the discovery, and at the same time I feel anxious being away from my home. I always get some sense of impending doom...the control freak in me I suppose. Mama hen wanting to be nearby to spread her protective wings and keep those chicks safe and warm. I hope I don't become agoraphobic in the future.

Joni's music always makes one think.

Ginnie said...

You know I'm a traveller, Ruth...lots of wanderlust in me. But I often ponder that even I always need and want to go back home. Some can take it longer than others but it always seem to be go home. If we didn't have this instinct, we might not have homes the way we picture them now?

There's comfort in melancholy. I like this. :)

Ginnie said...

I hate that Blogger ate all my comments from yesterday, Ruth. UGH. What a mess.

You know me, a lover of travel, maybe even more than most. But even I have that longing to go back home after time away. I have often said that the instinct we all have to go back home after a vacation is probably what 'saves' community. Can you imagine what life would be like if we didn't have it?

Anonymous said...

I like to travel because it makes me miss my own life, my own life that I'm so desperate to escape at times.

George said...

Haunting and deeply meaningful, Ruth — the inescapable wisdom of Camus, the raw honesty of Joni Mitchell's song, and your own heart-stirring words. My eyes froze in recognition when reading Joni's words: "I know no one's going to show me everything, we all come and go unknown, each so deep and superficial, between the forceps and the stone." They froze once again when I read your words about weeping in our human weakness, unable to look upon the light, blinking, trying to wipe our eyes clean, finding it necessary to filter the radiance from what is arguably too much visibility. I sometimes think we see the world through common eyes, my friend.

Unknown said...

you edify , always .

Loring said...

My favorite Joni period was the Summer Lawns/Hejira period, much more than Blue/LotC/etc., which puts me in a distinct minority, I think. So you can't believe how glad I was that you chose to spotlight Hejira.