Tag Archives: Joni Mitchell

‘Amelia, it was just a false alarm’

Detail from the 'new' photo of Earhart

Detail from the ‘new’ photo of Earhart

Amelia Earhart’s back in the news this week. Or rather, her disappearance is – an event that has sparked 80 years of speculation, books, films, and expeditions.

On the outer fringes of the Earhart story is a song written by Joni Mitchell, which came to mind this week as I squinted at a blurry picture, supposedly that of the American aviator on a wharf on an island in the South Pacific.

Is the shadowy image of a woman on the dock Earhart, last seen alive on July 2, 1937, some days before the picture was taken? Possibly, and possibly not. And so the mystery deepens.

In the absence of fact the fate of Earhart, if not the woman herself, has become a common property, open to scrutiny, interpretation, and debate.

As W.H. Auden would write, three years later, on the death of W.B. Yeats:

He became his admirers.
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections

Among the interpreters, some 40 years after Earhart’s disappearance, was Mitchell. The Amelia of her composition is not only the missing pilot (a “ghost of aviation”), but also the songwriter herself. Earhart’s attempt to be fly around the world becomes Mitchell’s own bid for meaning, in life and in love:

Amelia Earhart, 1928 (Pic: Library of Congress)

Amelia Earhart, 1928 (Pic: Library of Congress)

People will tell you where they’ve gone
They’ll tell you where to go
But till you get there yourself you never really know…

Maybe I’ve never really loved
I guess that is the truth
I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes

Each verse of the song ends with refrain, “Amelia, it was just a false alarm” – a phrase whose ambiguity mirrors both the pursuit for the truth about Earhart’s disappearance, and Mitchell’s own disappointment, in the face of her life coming up short.

Fittingly, given the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s fate, this ambiguity extends into the final lines of Mitchell’s song:

I slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust
I dreamed of 747s
Over geometric farms
Dreams Amelia – dreams and false alarms

Forty years later, the Earhart story still turns on those words: dreams, and false alarms.

Update – July 13, 2017: It appears that the ‘newly-discovered’ photograph may have been taken two years before Earhart disappeared, which debunks the claim that the woman in the image is the aviator. The Joni Mitchell song, however, remains as true as ever.

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On turning 37

John Updike Pic: George Bush Presidential Library

John Updike
Pic: George Bush Presidential Library

After a decade’s work Gertrude Stein completed The Making of Americans, comparing the finished novel to Ulysses. It went unpublished, in any form, for 13 years.

While working as the head chef at the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo Georges Auguste Escoffier met Cesar Ritz. The pair later formed a business partnership which commercialised gastronomy for the ordinary man – and led to the birth of the modern restaurant.

John Updike published his first collection of Henry Bech stories, writing that he modelled the character on Norman Mailer, J.D. Salinger and himself.

After spells in Berkeley, Belfast and Wicklow Seamus Heaney moved to Sandymount, Dublin, shortly after the publication of his ‘Troubles collection’, North. He would live there for the rest of his life, but rarely write about the area.

Lou Gehrig died of ALS at his home in New York. Two years earlier he had delivered his “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” address at Yankee Stadium.

Joni Mitchell Pic: Paul C Babin

Joni Mitchell
Pic: Paul C Babin

Joni Mitchell released Shadows and Light, a live recording featuring jazz musicians Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny. It was her final album on the Asylum label, run by her Free Man in Paris.

Ten years after quitting his job as a crime reporter David Simon published The Corner, later praised as an “unblinking and agonizingly intimate” account of the urban drug trade on a single street corner in Baltimore.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, having narrowly avoided death during the construction of the Thames Tunnel, almost choked when he inhaled a coin while performing a trick for his children. The disc was finally jerked free weeks later.

John Coltrane formed his classic quartet, with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. After two years the group produce one of the most famous recordings in jazz, A Love Supreme.

Despite years of frustration at a lack of commercial or public interest in his work Edward Hopper continued to paint, working on seascapes during time spent on an island off the coast of Maine.

'Monhegan Houses, Maine' Edward Hopper (1916-1919)

‘Monhegan Houses, Maine’
Edward Hopper (1916-1919)

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Sprains cost. And you start paying…in sweat

A grand stretch in the mornings.

A grand stretch in the mornings.
Pic: Clare Kleinedler

I don’t listen to Joni Mitchell when I’m running.

Her light-as-air voice and folk-jazz stylings jar with the lung-exploding, grunting, existential trauma that characterises my regular circuit.

But if I did I might have paid attention to her Big Yellow Taxi warning: we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. I certainly should have in the lead-up to a recent injury.

Neglecting to listen to my body (until, eventually, it grabbed me by the collar, shrieking in pain) saw me out of running shoes and onto the physiotherapist’s bench. It also introduced me to cruel, unusual and wholly necessary punishment of foam rolling. More of that below.

The background to all this goes back three years to a New York Times’ article I read on the pointlessness of stretching before a run. My mistake was extending this advice to after my run too.

The result was chalking up five 10km runs a week with minimal (read: zero) warm-down stretching. Maybe a dozen times in three years, and just hams and calves to boot.

The eventual outcome of this should have been apparent in advance – not least when I found myself crawling off the table in agony after a couple of leg massage sessions last year.

But no. I jogged on and on, approaching the painful reckoning one 10k at a time. It eventually occurred when I stubbed my toe on a crack in a concrete pavement in early May.

That was painful, but still not enough of a wake-up call. So for two weeks I continued to run on a big toe which, I later discovered, was sprained.

A day after I blogged about my injury I attended my physiotherapist who, deftly masking her horror at the condition of my feet and legs, ordered me off running for a month.

Like a pulling a piece of muscular string the toe sprain had kicked off plantar fascisitis (swelling of tendon on the sole of the foot) in both feet, strained my peroneal muscles (on either side of the shin) and my vastus medialis (the muscles above the knee).

My gait had wrenched my overworked muscles so tight that I could barely walk.

And so began a programme involving various types of stretching, golf balls under the feet, leg strengthening exercises and the foam roller. Oh – and having steel needles inserted directly into my knotted leg muscles, which feels exactly as it reads.

Foam roller

Foam roller. Agonised roar not included.

The icing on the rehabilitation cake though is my foam roller, a piece of molded plastic that I roll under my knotted leg muscles, producing fist-chewing levels of discomfort and instant sweats. The roller’s improved the condition of my legs considerably, and my lexicon of swearwords.

The treatment’s ongoing and the pain’s still present. But the physio’s allowed me three 5k runs a week at this stage, which has saved me from losing my mind (and my ever-patient wife from losing hers). I’m getting back from the sofa to the street, slowly but surely.

And I’m loathe to see a moral in all this, other than ‘don’t be an idiot, you idiot’.

As Joni Mitchell might say, I’ve seen toes from both sides now.

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