Joni Mitchell: ‘I’m a fool for love. I make the same mistake over and over’

As she releases a box set of her earliest recordings, in a rare interview Mitchell talks about life before fame, the correct way to sing her songs – and her long struggle to walk and talk again after an aneurysm

“I was lying in bed last night thinking about getting a cat,” says Joni Mitchell. It’s an early summer Sunday, and she’s sitting in her backyard patio, nicknamed Tuscany. Behind her a bird feeder is busy with hungry visitors. “And this guy shows up at the gate around midnight, meowing.”

A light-brown kitten with long white paws, only a few months old, leans contentedly against her shoulder. “I hope nobody comes to claim him,” she confides softly. They’re fast friends. Nearby Marcy Gensic, Mitchell’s longtime friend and associate, mentions they’ve papered the neighbourhood with lost notices. No calls yet. So with our midnight visitor, tentatively named Puss ’n Boots, tucked in the lap of this treasured artist, Mitchell is here to discuss the new set of early recordings she never intended to release: Joni Mitchell Archives Vol 1: The Early Years (1963-1967). For years she doubted their place in the revered canon of her carefully curated albums. “Some of the melodies are beautiful,” she told me in an interview in 2004, “but they’re very ingenue-y.” She seemed almost wistful. “God, they’re so vulnerable in these tough times. They’re like some ancient world.”

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