Joni Mitchell recalled the negative reaction she received when she played her first-ever composition for her piano teacher at age seven.
The artist’s own reaction to the performance set her on the road to a career that she said had taken time to influence other artists.
“She hit me across the knuckles with a ruler and said, ‘Why would you want to play by ear when you could have the masters and your fingers?’” Mitchell explained in a Zoom interview with industry mogul Clive Davis (via Rolling Stone). “She just treated me like a bad child. … I quit piano lessons. From then on, I was self-taught.”
The 77-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter, who’s appeared in public infrequently since suffering an aneurysm in 2015, also looked back on the criticism she received for her 1968 classic song “Both Sides, Now.” “When I first wrote that, I was very young and I took a lot of teasing,” she recalled. “‘What do you know about life from both sides now?’” Mitchell said she “finally grew into it.”
She explained that she “sort of rejected” her early material because it was based on fantasy – leading to more doubts over her choices. “I started scraping my own soul more and more and got more humanity in it,” she noted. “It scared the singer-songwriters around me. The men seemed to be nervous about it, almost like [Bob] Dylan plugging in and going electric. Like, ‘Does this mean we have to do this now?’ But over time, I think it did make an influence. It encouraged people to write more from their own experience.”
Mitchell also identified another criticism she outgrew over the years: “People used to say to me, ‘Nobody’s ever going to cover your songs. They’re too personal,’” she recalled. “And yet, that’s not true – they’re getting a lot of covers. It’s just humanness that I’m trying to describe. This generation is ready for what I had to say, I guess, and is not so nervous about it.”