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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Isaiah’s Plowshares & Pruninghooks, & Joni Mitchell’s Children of God, CSN&Y

Yesterday, I posted here….  … interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s great song “Woodstock” as sophisticated secular poetic midrash on the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Christian Bible. I woke up today, after a fruitful night of dreaming that apparently included a subconscious revisiting of my interpretation, and here is what I came upon in my mind as I awoke today:

First, a major “DOH!” moment—when I pointed out yesterday how much Joni Mitchell’s brilliant metamorphosis of bombers into butterflies reminded me of supernatural events in heaven reported in Revelation, I walked right by the wide open door of a ten times more obvious primary Biblical source for that particular image, this one from one of the sources for Revelation----the Hebrew prophet Isaiah 2:4:

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

I am by means the first to notice Joni Mitchell’s transformation as inspired by Isaiah. Here is a well-reasoned 2011 religiously Christian interpretation: : “I don’t know that Joni Mitchell was writing with Christian theology in mind, but Isaiah could have said “amen” to these words. You see, a major theme of the scriptures is God’s work — his mission — to return humanity to the Garden — and away from the devil’s bargain. And somewhere in all that, the swords will be beaten into plowshares — and the bombers might just turn into butterflies ….Let’s start at the end. (Rev 21:1-4 ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband …..“Paradise” is from a word meaning “garden.” At the end of time, we’ll be returned to the Garden — and the tree of life from the Garden of Eden will be transplanted to the new heavens and new earth, where man will walk with God in the cool of the morning. The direction of scripture therefore is the restoration and renewal of the Garden of Eden, a return to what once was right but was broken. But nothing is broken beyond God’s ability to repair.”

I think there’s plenty of room for agreement between the religious and the secular in those sentiments.

And the other realization I dreamed I saw last night, was a little in-joke tribute to certain “angels” Joni Mitchell knew well, a tribute that she cleverly hid in plain sight at the very beginning of her song:

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free

If you watched the YouTube video of her live performance of “Woodstock”, she introduced the song as follows:   “This next song that I am going to play is about one of these pop festivals…It’s one that I didn’t’ really get to go to. I’d been playing the night before in Chicago with a band of friends of mine, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, etc etc–and it was their first professional appearance, and we were all kind of excited about it, and the next we were all supposed to play at Woodstock ….I kinda got left behind…I stayed home in New York and watched it on TV all day…well, I wrote a little song for my friends to sing, and for myself to sing as well, and it’s called “Woodstock” and it goes like this….”

And what I realized today was—DOH! again!—the “child of God” whom Joni Mitchell came upon was actually… her friends Crosby, Still, Nash, & Young---who were LITERALLY, as she just explained,“going on down to Yasgur’s farm…to join in a rock ‘n roll band”—and the called that rock ‘n band “Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young”!

And then the fitting climax of that in-joke was that the song “Woodstock” was made very famous to the entire world not by Joni Mitchell’s own performance, but much more so by CSN&Y’s recording of “Woodstock”, which was the final cut on their hugely successful and influential album Déjà vu.

So in a very real sense, Joni Mitchell’s dream of spreading a message of late-20th century celebration (sounds like Revelation) of the power of love and community was turned into record-selling GOLD by the “child of God”—or rather, the four “angels” who inspired, and to whom she dedicated, her Biblically-savvy musical poem.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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