First things first: I stan for Joni Mitchell.
That journalist Sheila Weller’s NYT Bestseller, “Girls Like Us” also features Carole King and Carly Simon is a nice extra, of course. I haven’t even finished this book yet, but I just have to gush about it. It’s music history, it’s women’s history, it’s American pop culture history…what’s not to love?
The best description I’ve read so far of “Girls Like Us” is “scholarly and dishy.” The name-dropping and sometimes-scandalous stories from those in the know are delicious, without making any of the three subjects out to be complete divas, nor saints, for that matter. They are presented as what they are: supremely talented and supremely human, complicated, vulnerable, ballsy, self-deprecating, ambitious, egotistical, long-suffering, emotionally distant, and emotional needy. (You’ll have to read the book to find out who’s what!)
At the same time, the book offers thoughtful commentary on the history and evoluvtion of popular musical forms in the U.S. (doo wop, pop, jazz, rock, R&B; on the racial and sexual dynamics at play in the commercialization of these forms; on how these forms really were the soundtrack to a generation and to entire social movements; and on what life was like for many American girls coming of age in the 1960s.
As the back cover touts, this alternating biography really does “[read] like a novel”. Even though the prose is engaging when read chronologically, I can’t help thumbing through the book randomly. On any given page, I can get another great sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll tale, or some revelation about the political and social backdrop of the era. Speaking of which…
Weller’s book has given me a first glimpse at Joni Mithell’s personal racial politics. She romanticized being black, and is rather proud of her “black voice.” She has reportedly written the first line of her autobiography: “I was the only black man in the room.” She once dressed up as a stereotypical caricature of a black pimp, complete with black face. She named the character Art Nouveau, and the image of her in this get up graces the cover of one of her albums Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter. Considering herself “a painter first”, Mitchell painted portraits of a number of her lovers. But only her black lover, Don Alias, is painted wearing an open bathrobe with his erect penis fully on display.
Needless to say, my standom is now qualified.
Whether you stan for Joni, Carole, or Carly, or simply love good music and/or a good read…get this book!