I’ve often turned to Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” for comfort — not for feel-good comfort, which rarely works on me, but for a more melancholy kind of relief. The insights that run through Joni’s lyrics on the 1976 album are consoling in their honesty and truth, rather than in any sort of upbeat messaging. And in our current state of social distancing, the cool wisdom on “Hejira” and its songs of independence feel even more resonant than usual. The album is about being on your own, about solitude and its restorative capacities. It’s about facing the unforgiving transience of life, and then continuing to move forward anyway. It’s about feeling like an integral part of humanity — “I see something of myself in everyone / Just at this moment of the world,” she sings in the rich title cut — rather than simply part of a duo.
“Hejira” also offers the kind of comfort that comes, for me, anytime I encounter artistry that dazzles on all levels. The arrangements — featuring Jaco Pastorius’s singing bass — perfectly reflect the wintry significance of the songs. Joni’s delivery, whereby she expresses every word she sings, drives home her meanings (check out “Coyote,” which is a kind of spoken story as much as a song). “Hejira” is one of those original and fully realized albums that remind me of the elevating, ennobling power of art. Oh, and those themes of travel and flight all over “Hejira”? Think of them as vicarious pleasures.
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.