David Yaffe – Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

Honestly, I wasn’t brought up with the music of Joni Mitchell (just like my father born in 1943). The only notable song was Big Yellow Taxi. And yet, countless artists acknowledged the inspiration drawn from the Canadian singer-songwriter. That was the reason for me to pick up Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by fellow music critic David Yaffe who followed her life.

By the time Blue was released in 1971, she had survived polio and a bad first marriage. She had given up her daughter for adoption and recently fended off a marriage proposal from Graham Nash. The biography shows an endless flow of lovers that come and go, Mitchell being in control almost all of the times. An overwhelming wealth of clever lyrics, open guitar tunings, and chord progressions led to a steep career move in the music industry and ten revealing albums. Once hot and happening, she collaborated with jazz musicians to stay on par, faced Madonna’s reign in the 80’s, her guitar-based songs versus full bands playing glam rock, post-punk, and cheesy pop songs.

David Yaffe’s work is also open about the drug abuse, chain-smoking, and sexual activities of Miss El Lay. The book’s composed of the notes taken at dozens of in-person interviews with Joni Mitchell up to her post-2015 recovery from a brain aneurysm, liner notes, and insights in almost every song written by Joni Mitchell. A peek behind the scenes of the music industry, Friends and former lovers like Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen, David Crosby, and Larry Klein add to the flavor of this extensive (544 pages) retrospective. 

About the author

David Yaffe is an assistant professor of English at Syracuse University. His writings have appeared in many publications, including The NationSlateThe New York Times, The Village Voice, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

During the 2008-2009 academic year, he was the Gould Faculty Fellow in the Humanities at Claremont McKenna College. He subsequently returned to Syracuse.