Sunday, August 7, 2016

Joni Mitchell

In March of 1976, one of music's classic album covers was photographed on Lake Mendota in Madison, with a crystalline Picnic Point as its backdrop. Several years later, an image from that same day would appear on a another album cover by the musician.

Joni Mitchell's album covers for Hejira and Songs of a Prairie Girl were both taken when she was in Madison to perform at the Dane County Coliseum, now the Alliant Energy Center. Their visit would be overshadowed by the major ice storm that overtook the area for five days and resulted in major power outages.

The iconic photos were taken by photographers Norman Seef and Joel Bernstein: the outdoor photos on the album covers were taken by Seef and the image of Mitchell on the Hejira cover was taken in a studio by Bernstein, though he also took some outdoor shots as well.

More photos from Joni Mitchell on Lake Mendota

In an interview with Joe Smith for his book, Off The Record: An Oral History of Popular Music, Mitchell talks about when the photos were taken.

"We terminated in the Edgewater Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin. We got that far. The tour moved out. Joel Bernstein and I stayed behind because the lake at the edge of the Edgewater was frozen over. Now, it was about to thaw. It had thawed the day before and then frozen again. So all around the lake, all the trees had glass-like ice on them - thick, thick ice.
"If you walked along the banks of it you could hear this crash and tinkling like breaking glass as these boughs broke under the weight of it. To get onto the ice you had to take a big leap. I went through a couple of times before I got on because it was real soft and spongy. And that day, it was freezing cold. It was so cold that I got welts all over my face, like from snow coming up off the ice and stinging. It was freezing cold. But anyway, here was the end of the tour - premature abortion of a tour - disaster. Joel and I stay behind. We go into town, I get some skates. I got black skates, which everybody thought was weird because they were men's skates, but I wanted it to all look - I was in mourning; I didn't want white skates, I wanted black skates, you know? I put these black skates on. I put on this black skirt. And I had a fur cape that Joel thought was kind of ostentatious. It had like ermine tails or something on it. I said, "No, this is the costume." We were going for - do you remember an old song of mine called, 'I Wish I Had a River I Could Skate Away On'?"
"We had talked for years about a Hans Brinker type of shot if we ever found something frozen to skate on. So on this melancholy occasion - you know, like the end of my long relationship with this man; the premature breaking up of the tour - we were going after this "I Wish I Had a River I Could Skate Away On," Hans-Brinker-skating-out-on-the-ice image. Well, when we got out there, this cape that I had on turned out to be a sail. You could open it up and the wind would blow you all around. And the shapes that happened from it - I looked like a crow, I looked like a bird. The shapes were surrealistic. We hadn't counted on what happened. It was a really magical photo session. I've still got them. I saw some of the prints the other day. These are all covered with glassy ice."
  • In 1991, Rolling Stone cited the Hejira's cover as the 11th greatest album cover up to that time.
  • In 2000, German Spex magazine critics voted Hejira the 55th greatest album of the 20th century, calling it "a self-confident, coolly elegant design".
  • Hejira was also included in Robert Dimery's 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

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