For Those Of You Who Might Not Know
In 2020, to celebrate 20 years of bringing you Zappa and related news via my Idiot Bastard website, I wrote an essay a month providing answers to some of those questions no one ever asks me. Yes, I gave you 12 FUQs (Frequently Unasked Questions)! Most of these – slightly updated and modified, together with a few other articles (including one about Frank’s brief stint as a beat poet), can now be found in my e-book, Zappa FUQs.
And now here’s a brand new one for 2022.
#15: Joni Mitchell
Every few months, we are reminded by online culture magazines that Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell lived next door to FZ when he rented the Log Cabin (at 2401 Laurel Canyon Boulevard, from May to September 1968), and that her mother was horrified to see naked girls frolicking in his duck pond.
Prior to this, Mitchell used to watch Frank and the Mothers at the Garrick in New York, and would hang out with the band. She briefly became the girlfriend of Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood (aka Larry Fanoga). In his memoir For Mother’s Sake, Jimmy Carl Black says she was “a very nice, little, hippie chick. Hell, we didn’t know that she could even sing – especially the way she did!”
In early 1970, after her doomed relationship with ex-Hollie Graham Nash OBE was done, she temporarily stopped touring to travel, paint and write instead. For much of this period she was accompanied by her friend Penelope Ann Schafer, ‘a vibrant, creative and compassionate poet’ who passed away in 2011. They spent some time together in a cave-dwelling hippie community in Matala, on the Greek island of Crete, where Mitchell wrote Carey and other songs that would later appear on her album, Blue. She also wrote a poem for her friend, simply titled Penelope.
In August 1970, Mitchell played the Isle of Wight festival, where the fences were knocked down and the crowd swelled dramatically – Kris Kristofferson curtailed his set for fear of being killed.
Halfway through Chelsea Morning (a song she once described as a “rainbow sunshine song influenced slightly by the Mothers of Invention”), Mitchell told the now hostile crowd, “I don’t feel like singing that song very much. Let me play you one on the piano.” After a nervous few minutes (during which a yoga instructor she had met in Crete interrupted proceedings), she eventually won the audience over.
A few months later, on November 13, 1970, Mitchell joined the Mothers on stage at the Fillmore East where, to their improvised accompaniment, she recited the poem about her Cretan companion. It was included in the ‘Christmas book’ she gifted to select friends in 1971, which was given a wider audience in 2019 when it was formally published as Morning Glory On The Vine: Early Songs And Drawings. Here ‘tis:
Penelope wants to fuck the sea
Tired of waiting
Tired of the stitches
In her tapestry
Goosebumps on her winter flesh
Licking at her up the stone
Salt on its teasing tongue
Wide blue lipped
Like electric Jagger
It comes in spurts
It waves obscene
She wrinkles up her nose and screams
A haunted laugh
That rocks the rocks
And calls in metaphors
For metamorphic cocks.
The Fillmore audience was apparently taken
aback by this reading while, according to Mark Volman, FZ laughed his bottom
off. Mitchell concluded her guest appearance with a rendition of Gene
Chandler’s Duke Of
Earl, the classic song referenced earlier by the Mothers during Amnesia Vivace
on Absolutely Free.
Mitchell of course gets a mention in Billy The Mountain, (Studebaker Hoch was, “born next to the beef pies, underneath Joni Mitchell’s autographed picture”). Frank was evidently impressed by her album Blue as he played the opening track, All I Want, when he was a guest DJ on WSDM, Chicago on 21 November 1974. Joni can also be seen briefly alongside Frank in Alex Winter’s ZAPPA movie.
Mitchell later recruited FZ discoveries The Persuasions to back her on a version of the Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers' hit, Why Do Fools Fall In Love?, and her own composition, Shadows And Light, for a 1979 tour also featuring Michael Brecker. Other musicians they shared in common were “Sneaky Pete” Kleinow, John Guerin, Max Bennett, Emil Richards and Vinnie Colaiuta.
© February 2022 The Idiot Bastard
The backside of Joni, snapped for the inside of For The Roses, by Joel Bernstein.