This morning I got up and my living room was filled with the noise of Joni Mitchell’s “Clouds” album. Prima facie, I have no particular objection to Joni Mitchell, but nor do I have particular affection for her. (None of the women I know do. We’re much too hard, in the bourgeois gangster sense of hard, too busy listening to NWA while competing in triathlons to benefit childhood cancer research or humming along to The Chronic on our iPods while doing our taxes. That sort of thing.) Joni Mitchell is so ethereal. I mean, last I checked there is nothing — no mention at all — of the fact that the police might very well choose to fuck with her for being a teenager with a little bit of gold and a pager. Of course, she’s a middle-aged white woman with long blonde hair, and therefore has probably never used a pager; in her demographic, they went straight to cell phones. But anyway, I don’t have a ton of feeling about Joni Mitchell. To me, Joni Mitchell is like blancmange, except that I can get enthusiastic about vanilla cornstarch pudding in a way that “Big Yellow Taxi” just can’t replicate.

But I do have is a bizarre little factoid for you: every guy I’ve ever dated (and, as we know, I’ve dated a pretty much representative sample of every guy in America, including football players, effete poets, artists, artistes, stockbrokers, Young Republicans, hippie treehuggers, survivalist voyagers, Sensitive New-Age Guys, nonprofit employees, small-town blue-collar types, big city Brahmins, illegal immigrant rock guitarists, refugee advocates, mama’s boys, mother-hating wastrel hipsters, academics, failed academics, wannabe academics, unskilled workers, confused race traitors hoping to ‘pass,’ etc. etc. — in short, every possible manifestation of the Infinite Variation of Neuroses Possible in the Great White [or almost-White] American male) plays Joni Mitchell’s “Clouds” album. At least in mixed company. In private, I’m sure a lot of them secretly listen to Slayer.

So I guess I’d have to say I didn’t have a ton of feeling about Joni Mitchell, that she struck me as a mildly disappointing sort of pudding, until I began seeing the Eternal Return of Joni Mitchell in every relationship I ever had, usually when it had hit the kind of rough patch where the sex is perfunctory and the dinner conversation thin. Joni Mitchell would start popping up with a glass of wine after dinner, or Joni Mitchell would make a rainyday afternoon appearance over tea, or — and this is the worst — Joni Mitchell would crawl into the bedroom and attempt to make earnest and utterly bathetic love to me.

I had no deep-seated feeling about Joni Mitchell until Joni Mitchell became for me like a hydra, menacing the little boat of my sanity as I tried to navigate it past her craggy rock, her appearance so consistent and so predictably terrifying that I began to question the origin of the menace.

Originally, I concluded that:

1)The Great White American Male likes weepy folk warbled loopily against a lazy guitar. Except that this would be too simple. What are the odds? Greater talents than Ms. Mitchell (Leo Kottke, for one; Leonard Cohen, for another) go unrecognized by the breadth of audience she commands. There must be an ulterior motive, some great psychic unifying factor that makes everything between the ages of fifteen and fifty with a penis feel compelled to own at least a copy of “Clouds,” if not Mitchell’s entire oeuvre.

Which brings me to:

2)The Great White American Male thinks weepy, warbled folk impresses chicks, probably because it hints at a secretly sensitive side in lieu of his ever having to display anything remotely resembling “emotional intelligence.”

It’s worth noting that the male currently in question has only resorted to Joni after three years of marriage. I wonder what he’s up to.

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