Joni Mitchell may be the most influential female recording artist and composer of the late twentieth century. In Reckless Daughter, the music critic David Yaffe tells the remarkable, heart-wrenching story of how the blond girl with the guitar became a superstar of folk music in the 1960s, a key figure in the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 1970s, and the songwriter who spoke resonantly to, and for, audiences across the country.
A Canadian prairie girl, a free-spirited artist, Mitchell never wanted to be a pop star. She was nothing more than “a painter derailed by circumstances,” she would explain. And yet, she went on to become a talented self-taught musician and a brilliant bandleader, releasing album after album, each distinctly experimental, challenging, and revealing. Her lyrics captivated listeners with their perceptive language and naked emotion, born out of Mitchell’s life, loves, complaints, and prophecies. As an artist whose work deftly balances narrative and musical complexity, she has been admired by such legendary lyricists as Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and beloved by such groundbreaking jazz musicians as Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock. Her hits—from “Big Yellow Taxi” to “Both Sides, Now” to “A Case of You”—endure as timeless favorites, and her influence on the generations of singer-songwriters who would follow her, from her devoted fan Prince to Björk, is undeniable.
In this intimate biography, drawing on dozens of unprecedented in-person interviews with Mitchell, her childhood friends, and a cast of famous characters, Yaffe reveals the backstory behind the famous songs—from Mitchell’s youth in Canada, her bout with polio at age nine, and her early marriage and the child she gave up for adoption, through the love affairs that inspired masterpieces, and up to the present—and shows us why Mitchell has so enthralled her listeners, her lovers, and her friends. Reckless Daughter is the story of an artist and an era that have left an indelible mark on American music.
"Yet whatever her listeners might dream or desire, Joni Mitchell was never in it for them, and she certainly wasn’t like them: She was a genius. As David Yaffe shows in his new biography, Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, to approach her as an open book waiting to be read is to miss the essence of that genius . . . [T]he best full-length treatment of Mitchell yet published . . . [Yaffe] pulls off the feat that has eluded so many of his predecessors: He forges an intimacy with Mitchell on her own, uncompromising terms by truly listening to her, as closely and as generously as she’s always deserved . . ."—Jack Hamilton, The Atlantic
"Joni Mitchell’s gift was so enormous that it remade the social space around her. As David Yaffe’s new biography, “Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell” (Sarah Crichton Books), suggests, it is no small burden to possess something as valuable as Mitchell’s talent, and it meant that this girl from the Canadian prairie would be in the world, whether she liked it or not . . . Yaffe, who teaches at Syracuse, charts these encounters with a sure hand, and is a brilliant analyst of how Mitchell’s songs are made. "—Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker
"In prose that shifts between chatty, impressionistic and reportorial, Yaffe sympathetically traces the outline of the musician's life, from her childhood battle with polio through her life-threatening aneurysm in 2015. Working his way through her albums, he offers up detailed takes on recording sessions, song tidbits, even chord changes . . . Reckless Daughter looks at Mitchell's life through all sides now."—David Browne, Rolling Stone
"Yaffe solidly traces the glory and gloom of a musical career that expanded our ears and hearts . . . The lonely girl ill with polio had survived to become a great artist. Yaffe’s books tells us how she got there."—Sibbie O'Sullivan, The Washington Post
Reviews from Goodreads
1 ¦ ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I’D RATHER BE DANCING
One more time, she had to explain how she was born, and how the stage would be set for her to be the hero of her own life. The more unlikely, the more heroic. Things conspired—extraordinary...