Joni Mitchell ‘Traveling’ Book Explores Her Life and Career

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The cover of the U.S. edition

Joni Mitchell’s life and career is the subject of a 2024 book, Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell. The title, from NPR music critic Ann Powers, arrived June 11 via Dey Street Books. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it as “A dazzling portrait of a legendary musician.” It’s available in the U.S. here. [The U.K. edition, coming June 20 is available here.]

The book’s introduction notes, “What you are about to read is not a standard account of the life and work of Joni Mitchell. Instead, it’s a tale of long journeying through a life that changed popular music: of a homesick wanderer forging ahead on routes of her own invention, and of me on her trail, heading toward the ringing of her voice.”

From the publisher: For decades, Mitchell’s life and music have enraptured listeners. One of the most celebrated artists of her generation, Mitchell has inspired countless musicians—from peers like James Taylor, to inheritors like Prince and Brandi Carlile—and authors, who have dissected her music and her life in their writing. At the same time, Mitchell has always been a force beckoning us still closer, as—with the other arm—she pushes us away. Given this, Powers wondered if there was another way to draw insights from the life of this singular musician who never stops moving, never stops experimenting.

The U.K. edition

In Traveling, Powers seeks to understand Mitchell through her myriad journeys. Through extensive interviews with Mitchell’s peers and deep archival research, she takes readers to rural Canada, mapping the singer’s childhood battle with polio. She charts the course of Mitchell’s musical evolution, ranging from early folk to jazz fusion to experimentation with pop synthetics. She follows the winding road of Mitchell’s collaborations with other greats, and the loves that emerged along the way, all the way through to the remarkable return of Mitchell to music-making after the 2015 aneurysm that nearly took her life.

[In recent years, the legendary singer-songwriter and musician has begun to return to the stage, with several scheduled for 2024.]

Along this journey, Powers’ wide-ranging musings on the artist’s life and career reconsider the biographer’s role and the way it twines against the reality of a fan. In doing so, Traveling illustrates the shifting nature of biography, and the ultimate contradiction of celebrity: that an icon cannot truly, completely be known to a fan.

Mitchell’s expansive musical career has been archived through Grammy® Award-winning historical boxed sets released via Rhino. The Archives, Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967), Vol. 2: The Reprise Years (1968-1971), and Vol. 3: The Asylum Years (1972-1975) feature previously unreleased home, live, and radio recordings of Mitchell’s illustrious songwriting and singing. The various collections are available to order here.

Nashville-based author Powers has been a music critic for more than thirty years, working for NPR, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and other publications. In the decade she has worked with the NPR, she has written extensively on music and culture, appeared regularly on the All Songs Considered podcast, and news shows including All Things Considered and Morning Edition. Her books include a memoir, Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America; Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music; and Piece by Piece with Tori Amos.

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