Joni Mitchell is a bigger icon than she is a star. Bob Dylan and Keith Richards became so famous that they're stars and icons. Joni is still unknown to lots of people. The impact she had wasn't flashy. But she influenced people who became stars.
I remember a friend in high school playing me "A Case of You," from Blue. I could tell that Joni was a painter by the way she wrote lyrics. She describes smells and sounds and uses fewer words to transmit more feeling. Her melodies are about shapes. The singing lines are slow, steep plateaus. One of the things I learned from Joni: If you can tell the story and keep things moving, you don't need to return to the chorus on time.
What she writes is closer to journalism: On Blue, you hear everything she experienced, the highs and the lows. It's such a lonely album — not in the "I don't have any friends" sense but in the sense that you're a little bit removed, and always watching. It takes a lot of courage to be that honest, especially as a woman. When she did it, it was a fluffy time — pretty girls singing about pretty things.
Joni had an edginess that not many women expressed then. Joni Mitchell never made a big deal out of being a woman. She had such a strong sexuality, but she didn't feel the need to deny that part of her in order to be taken seriously. She also didn't play it up — although many of her songs are about sex.
I met her at a Vanity Fair photo shoot. Stevie Wonder introduced us. He took my hand — I guess I led him to her — and he said, "Joni, I'd like you to meet Jewel." I just shook her hand and tried to swallow. I didn't have anything to say to her. Her influence on me is so obvious. I hope she can hear it.