hejiras

October 7. 1999

Yes, I did look back at the last entry and laughed, thankfully. Well, maybe not laughed, but scoffed at myself for being so melodramatic in print. At any rate, I do feel better.

I titled this entry thusly because both of the albums I am reviewing are about journeys. Hejira is the arabic word for journey, and refers to the pilgrimage Mohammed made in 622 A.D. from Medina to Mecca.

The first album is Joni Mitchell's Hejira. I'm sure, dear reader, that you are sick of hearing from me how wonderful and brilliant she is. But I urge you to go out and get this album. And no, I don't care if you listen to Marilyn Manson or John Tesh. Go and buy it. NOW.

To put it simply, it is one of the most wonderful and beautiful albums I have ever listened to. I had purchased it several years ago, but only this summer did I really start listening to it and began to understand the complex themes underlying all the songs.

Joni wrote this album during her pilgrimage from L.A. to Vancouver in 1975. It was documented in this album. Throughout that journey, she grapples with the complex emotions of love, fear and longing, and how they have shaped her life and her relationships with other people. She recalls the affairs she had with men in the songs Coyote and Strange Boy, and how they all left her unsatisfied, because she was always looking for the bright, brilliant, shiny things in life, as she describes in Black Crow:

"In search of love and music / My whole life has been / illumination Corruption / and diving diving diving diving / diving down to pick up on every shiny thing / just like that black crow flying / in a blue sky."

In Song for Sharon and Amelia, she looks back at her past mistakes in love and wondering if she can get past them.

"maybe I've never really loved / I think that is the truth / I've spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes."

References to the road are evident is nearly every song, and it's that constant movement, that pushing on, that search for love, that ties the whole album together. I think Joni, and Tori too, is one of the few musicians who understood the concept of an album as an entire piece, not just individual songs. Hejira is all chapters of a single story: a women journeying toward finding herself, and finding love and happiness. Maybe the reason I like this album is so much is because I'm on a similar journey. Maybe we all are.

The second album is Tori Amos' new one, To Venus and Back. Half studio album, half live album. I thought of this album as more of a journey of emotions than a literal one. A journey toward maturity, inner peace, or whatever you want to call it. I think Tori's reached a point her life that she's kind of settled down and is less angry than say, in Boys for Pele, and that reflects in her music.

I thought long and hard about what I was going to say about this album. I got it, listened to it a number of times, but the strange thing is, I didn't feel compelled to listen to it over and over incessantly as I had with her other albums. Tori's grown enormously as a musician, I think this album is one of her most musically complex works to date. The melodies, the rhythms, the sounds all seemed to come together. There were a time when I would have been satisfied with the unadorned piano of Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink, but now the songs are knit and held together using the band. I agree with what my friend Jorge said of TVAB: that her last album, From The Choirgirl Hotel, was a transition album to the full band sound, and that TVAB is that sound fully developed. The strange thing is, after listening to it many times, it left me strangely hollow. As much as I hate to say it, for me, Tori's music is getting less and less accessible to me emotionally. I can understand the emotions she puts in these songs, I just can't seem to relate to them.

One strange symptom of listening to TVAB is that it made me want to go back and listen to Under the Pink over and over again. That's always been my favorite album of Tori's, and I finally went back and started really listening to the musical aspect of her music, and how it integrated with the emotional aspect of her music. I found out many things that, despite having listened to the album hundreds of times, I had missed until now.

So. Here's my consensus on TVAB. She's kicking more ass than ever musically. I won't go through song by song, but here are some favorites: first, Lust. Here's a good example of the rhythm really tying together the song. The piano in this song could've easily fit into her earlier albums, but it sounds a lot more mature and developed than the average ballad on LE or UtP. I also really like Riot Poof, the rhythm gets me every time, and I like the way it segues right into Datura, which again, has an amazing rhythm thing going on, especially in the beginning. In that song her voice is obscured more in favor of instrumentation, and that has been frequent complaint among reviews of this album: that her voice is taking a backseat in favor of other aspects of her music. I'm not sure if I like it myself, time will tell. One of the songs I don't like is Josephine. It's a little too short, and more of an interlude than a song, like Mr. Zebra or Way Down on Boys for Pele. It doesn't do anything really original in the way of vocals, piano or rhythm. I also don't like 1000 Oceans too much. I hated it, in fact, until I bought the single and got to see the video for the song on the enhanced CD. The video is possibly one of the most beautiful Tori videos ever made. Right up there with the video for Pretty Good Year, in my mind. As a visual artist, I'm always interested to see someone's visual interpretation of a song, and this one didn't disappoint.

I don't have much to say about the live album. It's nice, but I wasn't too impressed by it. There were a few things I did like in particular, like the slow intro to Cornflake Girl, and improbably enough, Mr. Zebra. Cooling (my favorite Tori song) and Cloud on My Tongue were wonderful to hear also. Maybe it's because i've been spoiled by a great many bootlegs, but I didn't find Cruel, Sugar, Little Earthquakes or The Waitress that intriguing. In fact, I found her voice in Cruel downright annoying, but the guitar rocked my world. Anyway, the live disc is a good listen all in all.

music: Tori Amos, More Pink, the B-sides
food: lots of delicious fruit i just bought at Shop Rite
read: the lyrics to Hejira
sight: the new Spin, with Tori on the cover
random: my dad's b-day is a week from saturday. eep!
Song Lyric:
We got high on travel / and drunk on alcohol /And on love / the strongest poison and medicine of them all
- Strange Boy, Joni Mitchell