“I slept last night in a good hotel
I went shopping today for jewels
The wind rushed around in the dirty town
And the children let out from the schools
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free.
Now me I play for fortune
And those velvet curtain calls
I’ve got a black limousine
And two gentlemen
Escorting me to the halls
And I play if you have the money
Or if you’re a friend to me
But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good, for free.
Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their t.v.
So they passed his music by
I meant to go over and ask for a song
Maybe put on a harmony…
I heard his refrain
As the signal changed
He was playing real good, for free.”
‘Real Good For Free’ has to be the best song poem ever written about buskers.
It comes from the pen of the unique Joni Mitchell. Here she is a famous singer staying at a plush hotel. Playing for fortune and those velvet curtain calls. Being driven to her concerts in a black limo.
Joni leaves the hotel. She’s in the mood to go jewellery shopping. She’s waiting for a traffic light to turn green when she spots a guy on the other side of the street playing a clarinet really well. It stops her in her tracks. She’s tempted to go and join him but the lights change…
From what I have read about Joni Mitchell, she always had something of an ambivalent attitude towards fame; how deserved it was, and how deserved were the riches that came her way. If only other famous people were as equally pensive and circumspect.
Which brings me to this. The inimitable music theatre performer Queenie Van De Zandt is bringing back her show ‘Blue ; The Songs Of Joni Mitchell’ for one night only at the Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. She had a brief chat with me.
Queenie spoke about how the upcoming show would be one of the first times that she has been on stage since Covid hit and blacked out theatres for almost a year. Covid hit her particularly badly. She had toured her show around Australia, both city and regional areas. Queenie was on the verge of taking her Joni show over to America for a fully booked three week tour when Covid hit and the tour was abruptly cancelled.
Now her show is back on the road, fingers crossed, as we seem to have presently tamed the horrid Covid 19 virus.
I saw Queenie’s show when it last played Sydney back in August 2017 at the intimate inner city venue, the Hayes Theatre. Queenie advises that her show is unchanged.
This is a show that doesn’t over-reach itself. Joni’s active career spanned a half a century and covers so many different periods, like the work of any great artist does. How could any one show possibly be a definitive Joni Mitchell show?!
Queenie’s concert runs for not much over an hour. It is well contained, focusing on early Joni Mitchell when some of her most popular songs were born.
Four of the songs performed – ‘All I Want’, ‘My Old Man’, ‘River’ and ‘A Case Of You’- come from Joni’s 1971 album ‘Blue’, the third album she recorded. In a 2020 edition of Rolling Stone magazine this album was cited as the third greatest album ever recorded in the history of popular music.
It was like the wild Irishman Van Morrison’s first solo album ‘Astral Weeks’. Both albums, forgive the pun, seemed to come from out of the blue. No-one had heard anything remotely like them. And yet they touched one’s innermost self.
You are in for a treat if you go over to the Riverside and see Queenie’s show on Saturday night 20th February when it plays the intimate Lennox Theatre.
Queenie delivers Joni’s songs with warmth and sensitivity. The setting is very Joni. The stage is lit with candles. There’s an easel with a portrait of Joni, similar to the self portraits Joni painted and put on some of her album covers. Painting is a constant reference point in her work- ‘I am a lonely painter/I live in a box of paints/I’m frightened by the devil/but drawn to those who ain’t afraid’ (‘A Case Of You’).
Queenie is joined by a pianist, a double bass player and a guitarist. The show has a lot of warmth to it. And yes, in her song list, Queenie performs a real good version of ‘Real Good For Free’.
In 2015 Joni had a major stroke. Her friend and fellow musician David Crosby reported that it took Joni a long time just to learn to walk again.
There isn’t ever going to be a new Joni Mitchell album. Never again that curiosity as to what new direction she will take.
Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night follows the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Above all, Joni has been a creative artist who remained ever true to herself.