When You Finally Chase All Your Demons Away…

Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell tossed off a most eloquent truism in her recent PBS documentary, Joni Mitchell: Woman Of Heart And Mind. “When you finally chase all your demons away,” she said, “your angels tend to fly off too.”

I’ve been thinking about that statement alot tonight in relation to a previous post I wrote about this year’s recording/performing hiatus. It makes extra sense to me now. See, I’ve been working very diligently in the past few years to wrestle with the stuff that was keeping me from growing up: the leftover stuff, the residual issues, fears and anxieties. Those things are, after all, a large part source for my songwriting.

Take my fear of flying. As a little boy, I loved to go to watch planes take off (hence, “Roache’s Run” — an actual spot beneath the Washington National runway — on Smokey Junglefrog’s She My Niece). Further, I loved to fly. When my parents divorced, I was shuttled between the Midwest and Northeast on heartwrenching, near-monthly unaccompanied flights. The residual sadness found its way onto my CDs: “Wax & Feathers” (on Always Almost There), “Glider” (on Out of Your Head), and “Crash Site” (on Crash Site.).

My new record-in-the-making has a number of flight-themed songs: “The Albatross” (“Everything around me/Disappears from sight/All the chains that bound me/Slip away/And I take flight”). And “New York” (“I feel myself descending/And I feel it sinking in/In a moment we’ll be landed/I’ll be on my feet again”). This time, though, it is about taking off and landing, it’s about ascent and descent; the grounding force of gravity. There are no catastrophic failures, no flaming wrecks, no black boxes to recover.

And so, perhaps in the absence of those demons, the urgency to vanquish them in the only way I know how — writing — is diminished. What then will come next, then? I can fly, finally — why write about it?

Make no mistake: new issues will emerge, and old ones will resurface. But they are less powerful, and more manageable. The older one gets, the more capable one becomes: the more durable, weathered, resilient.

Last fall’s ‘Summer’s Gone Tour,’ then, marked an end of sorts: an end of innocence, and an end to the rocknroll dream. I was never very rocknroll anyway. Rocknroll is predicated, after all, on permenant youth — something I’ve never really been interested in anyway. I was raised on singer/songwriters: Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Carol King, Joan Baez, Elton John, John Denver, Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot. And Joni Mitchell. And so it’s their company I’ll endeavor to keep, the angels of the radiowaves: ours but in the ether.

Relatedly, PRI’s ‘Marketplace’ had a terrific piece this morning — Independence Day, after all — on independent artists like Aimee Mann. In it, Aimee’s manager (and former ‘Til Tuesday drummer Michael Hausemen) commented that ‘Til Tuesday still hadn’t recouped its expenses (ie: made any money) after nearly 20 years and two million album sales. In contrast, Aimee has sold roughly 200,000 copies of each of her two independent releases, earning her more than $1M.

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