Joni Mitchell Talks Blackface, Taylor Swift Comparison

"When I see black men sitting, I have a tendency to...nod like I’m a brother," singer says

Joni Mitchell recalled wearing blackface and talked Taylor Swift comparisons in a new interview. Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty

Joni Mitchell recounted the circumstances that led her to wear blackface and become "the black guy in front" on the cover of her 1977 album, Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, in a new interview with New York

"I was being butchered by a dentist who was capping my teeth — and he was my dentist for about 12 years and one day he said, 'Oh, you've got the worst bite I've ever seen. You have teeth like a Negro male,'" she said. The next event that inspired her decision was seeing a man "diddy-bopping" – and she demonstrated a walk that the magazine described as "an irregular strut, one leg shorter than the other" – which prompted the man to tell her, "Mmm, mmm, mmm, you looking good, sister, you looking good." With a Halloween party on the horizon, she decided, "I'm going to go as him." Upon arrival in full makeup, she recalled people asking her if she was at the right party.

With that reaction, she decided to surprise the cover photographer who had been irritating her. "I could do the makeup in about four minutes, and then I step out of the curtain," she said. "I just stood there 'til they noticed me. I walked really showily, going, 'Heh heh heh.' It was a great revenge. That was all to get his ass. To freak him out. I had to keep him on the defensive."

She also told the interviewer she wished she had every kind of heritage, "Then I could tell everyone off and not be a bigot." But lest she be labeled a racist, she added, "When I see black men sitting, I have a tendency to go — like I nod like I'm a brother. I really feel an affinity because I have experienced being a black guy on several occasions." The latter comment was in reference to the cover.

Elsewhere in the interview, the 71-year-old explained why she nixed Taylor Swift's portrayal of her in a biopic. "I've never heard Taylor's music," she said. "I've seen her. Physically, she looks similarly small-hipped and high cheekbones. I can see why they cast her. I don't know what her music sounds like, but I do know this — that if she's going to sing and play me, good luck."

(In response to the article, a representative for Swift shot down biopic rumors to Rolling Stone. "It's a shame Joni keeps being asked about a movie that Taylor was rumored to be a part of," the rep says. "But this rumor, like many others casting rumors, is not true.")

She also revealed a new skin disease she had recently been diagnosed with called Morgellons. Calling it incurable, she explained it's "fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm." Moreover, she added, "They cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable, or mineral."

Last year, Mitchell released a new box set of her work, Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced. It contained her picks for the best tracks from her decades of playing folk and experimenting with jazz.

"I am a painter who writes songs," she wrote in a statement about her box set. "My songs are very visual. The words create scenes.... What I have done here is to gather some of these scenes (like a documentary filmmaker) and by juxtaposition, edit them into a whole new work."