Inspiration in Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” Album
Posted by Lindsay Pfeifer | 21 May 2015
Next Friday, Merideth Kaye Clark will be performing the entire Joni Mitchell album Blue. This unique performance is a one time event so you don't want to miss out! Here we chatted with her about all things inspiration and Blue related.
How did the show come about?
One night, a few months ago, I was talking to my husband, Eric, about albums that I love and would love to sing. It was kind of one of those "what if I could....?" conversations where you dream big. I have been doing concerts and playing my own music for years, but the idea of performing an album was something I'd never done before.
On the way to see the opening night of Other Desert Cities at Portland Center Stage, I was talking to my friend John Srednicki about the idea of doing a concert of an album (I think I specifically mentioned Blue to him). He got really excited and said, "yeah, you should totally do that!" At the opening night party, I ran into Brandon Woolley, producing associate at PCS, and mentioned to him that I had this idea to perform Joni Mitchell's Blue album front to back and what did he think of that idea. Brandon was pretty jazzed about the idea, too! I have always wanted to work with Brandon and I asked him what he thought of directing it. He mentioned the concert to Cynthia Fuhrman, chief operating officer at PCS, the very next day. Well, it turns out Cynthia is a Joni lover also! She thought there might be a place and time to do it at PCS.... and then the next thing I knew it was actually happening.
Why did you choose the Blue album specifically?
As far as I'm concerned Blue is the richest, most perfect, haunting, beautiful, best album ever released. Throughout my life, I always come back to this music. And every time I do, I hear something different. A lyric makes new sense to me, or I hear a different line in the music or a way she delivers a phrase that hits me like it's the first time. The songs on the album mean new things every time I hear them, as I change and grow.
As a performer, Blue is a really big challenge! The songs aren't easy vocally and Joni made up her own rules as far as tunings for the guitar and dulcimer. Oh, and there's the dulcimer... When I decided to learn the album, I also decided I needed to learn how to play the dulcimer, Joni's main instrument on Blue. The opening riff of "All I Want" is iconically played on the dulcimer! Also "California," "Carey," and "Case of You" wouldn't be the same if I was accompanied by another instrument. I'm still getting my fingers around it, but that part has been really rewarding too- learning a new instrument.
What other album could I listen to, study, learn, cry to, and really try to understand musically and emotionally the way I would want to with Blue?
What about “Blue” made you fall in love with the album?
I remember sitting in my car with a friend in Atlanta when I was about 20 years old. We were playing the opening of "California" over and over again. The phrase "it was just a dream some of us had," - the way she delivers it, like, kind of throws it away like an idea you once had that wouldn't work. It was the first time I heard a lyric like that... And then again when I was living in California a few years later a similar thing happened with "Case of You." Over and over and over, until I knew every word... What a brilliant way to say you can't get enough of someone... That you could drink a case of them and "still be on my feet." AH! The whole album is like that. Phrase after phrase describing feelings in that perfect way that make you say "YES! That's what I feel too!" Only Joni says it perfectly. With music that just melts your soul.
What other artists or albums inspire you?
I love Tapestry (Carole King), Coat of Many Colors (Dolly Parton), Weezer (Blue), I think August and Everything After (Counting Crows) is a pretty perfect album. Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morisette) takes me so specifically back to high school and when I was first discovering how lyrics could move me. I love Paul Simon and Cat Stevens. Oh, and Tomorrow the Green Grass (The Jayhawks).
How did you end up in Portland?
Love love love.
When I was on tour with Wicked, we came through Portland (in 2009). I rented an apartment on 23rd and Glisan, bought a bike at the thrift shop next door, and rode to the Keller for shows. I remember thinking then that Portland would be a great place to live someday. So when I fell in love with a man who lived in Portland...voila! Here I am!!! After 10 years of living in New York City, Portland is welcome change. I love being here.
What do you like about the Portland theater scene?
I think the story of how this concert came about is a great example of what I like about theater in Portland. If you dream it, it can happen. Theaters around Portland are doing wonderful, varied work. Audiences are supporting that work. There are grants and businesses supporting the arts. Artists are choosing challenging projects. There are tons of opportunities to perform, or create opportunities for you to perform. Everyone is talking and working together. There is an awesome sense of community.
Tell us more about the dulcimer!
It's a four-string instrument. I am playing an Appalachian or Lap dulcimer, like Joni did. There are two strings that are close together that are the same high note. Then there is a middle drone note and a low bass note. It gets this wonderfully tinny, open sound. Joni played around with tunings, so we have three different ones for the concert to avoid having to do so much re-tuning in between songs.
What’s next for you?
Well, right now I am really loving being with my 4-month old daughter, Ever. I have a project over the summer doing a series of private events. And I am waiting for the right time to dive back into doing another play or musical. Right now, concerts are fitting nicely into my world of balancing new-motherhood and performing. So, I think I'll be doing more of this sort of thing for a while until the perfect project brings me back to the boards.
Photo credit: Lavenda Memory
MERIDETH KAYE CLARK PERFORMS BLUE
MAY 29 | 9:30 p.m. | $15
In the Ellyn Bye Studio after The Loin