"And soon after that came the end of her complicated relationship with Don Alias. Even though he was willing to pimp her out to Miles Davis, his jealousy would brutally end the relationship.I'm transfixed by David Yaffe's encyclopedic, music-centred biography of Joni Mitchell. Reading the passage above I asked Clare, (a fellow INFP), what she thought Joni was thinking of as she made her way home that early morning.
"Don Alias was irrationally jealous and beat me up a couple of times,” Joni recalled in 2015. "So, the first time, it was a long break. And then he went and appealed to all my friends. So I went back, and then he did it again, irrationally. He thought I was cheating on him. He invented it. Paranoia, and probably because he was on the road all the time and was probably cheating on me.
"I would say it was projection. He was very sweet, but you don't want to get beat up by a conga player - in the face. He's very strong and those hands are lethal weapons. He beat me up pretty badly."
The second time Alias beat Joni, she had gone out to dinner with John Guerin with his permission. They agreed to a time when Joni would come home. Anyone familiar with Joni's rococo conversation style would expect her to be late. She was. She rolled in after four a.m. and came home to a battering.
The dinner was with a former lover, a longtime lover, a lover whose prowess Alias had been hearing about for a while. Alias must have known that Joni tried to maintain friendships with her exes, but he also knew how Joni had never quite let go of this one.
She kept hiring Guerin for albums and forgave him for everything he put her through.
"I'm monogamous when I'm monogamous," Joni told me. 'And it was with Don's permission. So I came home, he beat me up, ..." (p. 286).
- "I mentioned to Don that I was going to meet up with John Guerin, my former partner, and he looked at me and grunted through clenched teeth, which I naturally took for permission. OK, it's a bit late .. but what could possibly go wrong?"
- "It was meant to be a brief catch-up, but I've essentially spent the night with my former lover John Guerin. Don Alias will naturally think the worse: he's huge, has poor impulse control and form for violence. I'm going to get battered to within an inch of my life."
- "I've had a great evening with my soulmate John Guerin! How time flies! Oh well, time to get a little sleep!"
There is a spectrum in biographies from vindictive hatchet-jobs at one end to hagiographies at the other. Since Yaffe is a self-confessed superfan, and also massively in awe of his subject, it's no surprise that she gets the benefit of the doubt every time.
This is not a good place for a critic to be.
So listen to Joni on "The Magdalene Laundries":
or on "Sex Kills"
and you will hear none of the lightness, humour or ironic self-awareness of her early (and popular) work. Instead we get full-on self-righteousness: Joni was a good hater.
As she veered off into ever more self-indulgent and idiosyncratic jazz-oriented pieces, her audience deserted her. Listen to "Mingus" (1979) and you will see why.
But for Yaffe, Joni truly can do no wrong.
Despite the author's all-embracing Joni-philia and tendency to uncritically recycle liberal platitudes, this encyclopedic labour of love remains a compelling read almost to the end (her final years, coyly described, are under-informative and over-detailed with band-trivia). Until the final, measured biography, surely not to be written for decades, this is absolutely as good as it gets.