It’s a rare day when you meet your muse. In this case, it was May 1988 in Tokyo. That said, if it was Tokyo in May, it was raining. An appropriate setting for Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, although there was nothing ephemeral about what we were about to see.
Joni Mitchell was in town to promote the album’s release, but this was special: She had actually come to open an exclusive exhibition of her paintings. My colleague, photographer Robert McLeod, and I shook out our umbrellas in the foyer of the chic Shibuya Parco department store and were directed into a packed conference room, where (I noticed) we were the sole non-Japanese folks in the place. We were there for the Japan Times, but this was no ordinary gig for me.
Joni, whose album Blue transported my teenage romantic self to the peaks and depths of my poetic soul, whose “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” was a musical banquet that inspired and fed me, on so many levels and for lo these many decades now. Compound all that music and poetry with the serendipity of being uprooted from my beloved friends in England at age 16 to move to Saskatoon, Saskatche-what? To the same high school Joni Mitchell had walked to some 15 years previously. We shared overlapping teachers even, and stories of Joni floated the streets of the ’Toon. She was legendary even then.
The sudden hush announced that she’d arrived, with a small entourage of sponsors, assistants and husband, bassist Larry Klein. They settled at the table, Joni smiling rather shyly as she lit up a Marlboro, and the questions began. Time whistled by like wind across a wheat field, and we were invited downstairs to see the actual exhibition, Eclection. It was composed of 18 or so mainly huge canvases, including a life-size portrait of herself and Klein, posed cheek to cheek, titled Solid Love.
Robert and I were getting into the elevator when I decided to nip out to the ladies’ room down the hall. I pushed open the door, only to find Joni’s assistant standing at the basin. We were chatting away when that familiar voice came from one of the cubicles. “Hey! Who’s that Canuck? I’d recognize those diphthongs anywhere!” It was Joni. She emerged from a stall, frustrated. “Damn, do either of you have a tampon? I’ve just started!”
“Leave it to me!” I insisted. I returned somewhat damper after a quick run to the nearest pharmacy to find Robert posing Joni and Larry, cheek to cheek in front of the iconic portrait. She was watching out for me, and I gave her the thumbs-up. As only a woman in “that state” can, she zipped across the room, grabbed my hand and we (I kid you not) skipped to the nearest ladies’ room, singing “skip to the loo my darling.”
Put it down to the champagne? Nah, just a couple of Canuck sisters from the ’Toon, hamming it up far, far away from home. One way or another, we’d dealt with today’s blood, poetic or otherwise. Women’s Business.
P.S.: Dear Joni, you probably don’t remember that day, and I hope you won’t mind me sharing it. We’re old ladies now (with no need of such devices), and I figured that since you had the (ahem) balls to print the F-word and yourself in the buff on For the Roses, you wouldn’t mind. That was a really great day. With love and thanks for everything, Beth.
Beth’s career has spanned three continents over 40 years; from theatre to journalism, narration and documentary production; fibre arts and festival production and onto developing and pioneering organic plant-based body care “from the ground up”. Supporting artisans and artists, Indigenous peoples, sustainable living and ecological responsibility have been strong threads through her working life.