During his lecture yesterday on the songs of Joni Mitchell for the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center at Silliman University, New York Writers Workshop co-founder Tim Tomlinson played two versions of one of her most iconic compositions, "Both Sides, Now": the precocious original from 1969 and a tonally different cover she made with an orchestra in 2000.
That last version broke my heart: it was a totally different song, with a deeper kind of gravitas -- and I guess it's because the pain in the lyrics has been leavened so thoroughly with the sound of experience. When the last line comes -- "I really don't know life at all" -- it finally becomes devastating because truer. Our art becomes different when we grow older, I guess, and the best of us learn to turn our adult mistakes and misadventures into a kind of poignant confession: we're just winging at life. I don't think she was romanticising her pain. I think she was just being true.