November is historically a month to remember and honor our military Veterans here in America and how fitting it is that 75 years ago on November 7, an iconic songsmith was born with a monumental mission of her own that would trail blaze a historic path of artistic liberties for future female songwriters and musicians across the globe.
Carly Simon, Carole King and Judy Collins, to name a few, have enjoyed the freedom to write, play and compose their own music as credible solo female artists in a day and age when it was unpopular and uncommon, all thanks, in part, to their folk heroine, Joni Mitchell.
With her poetic lyrics, her silky smooth vocals, her prairie girl grin, and her warm and witty vibe, the young and beautiful songstress was the embodiment of many a lovers muse. As she gained popularity in the late 60’s playing in nightclubs and coffee shops throughout the east coast, she caught the attention of now famed rock photographer Joel Bernstein, who at the time was 14 years old. Impressed by his photographs of her, Joni invited the teenaged Bernstein to Southern California to collaborate with an older and more experienced photographer, Henry Diltz, on a photo shoot of hers, which led to a great mentorship for the then budding photographer, as well as an expansive 40-year professional partnership and friendship. As a result, their images along with other famed photographers honored at the JONI exhibit, have cumulatively been featured on many of her 30 album covers, gatefolds and packaging inserts, including the stunning Hejira and For the Roses LP’s.
On Thursday, Nov. 15, GUM had the privilege of joining a select few at the private reception for the new JONI installation at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in The Sunset Marquis. The tiny gallery was jam packed with friends and colleagues of Joni’s who joined in celebrating the eight-time Grammy winner’s extraordinary 5-decade career through the photographic lenses of world-class photographers who worked closely with her.
Henry Diltz, Joel Bernstein, and Norman Seeff were present at the event, and were swarmed upon like bees to honey and barely had time to come up for air. While waiting patiently for a crack in the fortress that surrounded them, I took up a chat with Charlie Fernandez, Joni’s tour manager of 40 years, and as I pointed to the iconic black and white photo of Joni ice skating on a frozen Lake Mendota in Wisconsin (1976) he exclaimed, “It was cold that day!” I replied, “What! You mean you were there?” and he said, “yes, it was during her tour, and I was her tour manager, so I had to be there!”
He continued sharing about how down to earth she was and what a great conversationalist she was. He pointed to a photo of her sitting in the drivers seat of an old car wearing a leopard-print coat with her foot propped up on the rolled down window, and he said with a smile and a chuckle, “that is so Joni!”
Charlie eventually seized the opportunity to personally introduce me to Joel Bernstein after which Joel excitedly walked me over to his first photo of Joni at her Laurel Canyon home. He pointed to it and said, “Look how young she was, she was so real and natural.” He discussed how he was young himself as a photographer and how he gleaned from the older and more experienced Henry Diltz who was also present during many of her photo shoots.
Walking by frame after frame gazing at Joni’s musical journey through timeless images of her taken by Bernstein himself, and her old flame Graham Nash as well as Norman Seeff and ten other world-renowned photographers was a bit surreal. It was as if time stood still just long enough to visually touch a remnant of the illustrious soul of what many consider one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century.
The JONI exhibit and sale opened simultaneously to the public on November 16 in all three Morrison Hotel Galleries in Los Angeles, New York and Maui and it will remain open to the public through December 15.
All photos: Martin Santacruz Jr., GUM