By Ann Powers
(Dey Street Books, March 2024)
Celebrated NPR music critic Ann Powers explores the life and career of Joni Mitchell in a lyrical style as fascinating and ethereal as the songs of the artist herself.
For decades, Joni Mitchell’s life and music have enraptured listeners. One of the most celebrated artists of her generation, Mitchell has inspired countless musicians—from peers like James Taylor, to inheritors like Prince and Brandi Carlile—and authors, who have dissected her music and her life in their writing. At the same time, Mitchell has always been a force beckoning us still closer, as—with the other arm—she pushes us away. Given this, music critic Ann Powers wondered if there was another way to draw insights from the life of this singular musician who never stops moving, never stops experimenting.
In Traveling, Powers seeks to understand Mitchell through her myriad journeys. Through extensive interviews with Mitchell’s peers and deep archival research, she takes readers to rural Canada, mapping the singer’s childhood battle with polio. She charts the course of Mitchell’s musical evolution, ranging from early folk to jazz fusion to experimentation with pop synthetics. She follows the winding road of Mitchell’s collaborations with other greats, and the loves that emerged along the way, all the way through to the remarkable return of Mitchell to music-making after the 2015 aneurysm that nearly took her life.
Along this journey, Powers’ wide-ranging musings on the artist’s life and career reconsider the biographer’s role and the way it twines against the reality of a fan. In doing so, Traveling illustrates the shifting nature of biography, and the ultimate contradiction of celebrity: that an icon cannot truly, completely be known to a fan.
Kaleidoscopic in scope, and intimate in its detail, Traveling is a fresh and fascinating addition to the Joni Mitchell canon, written by a biographer in full command of her gifts who asks as much of herself as of her subject.
One of the nation’s most notable music critics, Ann Powers has been NPR Music’s critic and correspondent since 2011. Powers served as chief pop music critic at the Los Angeles Times from 2006 until she joined NPR; prior to the Los Angeles Times, she was senior critic at Blender, a pop critic at the New York Times, and a senior editor at the Village Voice. She won the 42nd annual ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award in 2010 and is based in Nashville, TN.