The highlight of the group, however, was “Both Sides, Now,” a song the 23-year-old Mitchell wrote in 1967, the same year she first played Newport. At the time, some critics mocked the hypothetical wisdom of the words: What would a 23-year-old girl know about both sides of life? But over the years, the song has revealed that it contains unfathomable depths that are only heard in later interpretations.
When she was 56, Mitchell re-released a rich version of “Both Sides, Now” on her 2000 album of the same name, supported by a 70-piece orchestra. Her voice was deeper, elegant and elegantly exhausted. She sang at the end of the song, “It’s life’s illusions I remember, I really don’t know life at all.”
This version was considered a teardrop (and used that effect in a classic scene from “Love, Actually”), but again, it’s easy to find pity when getting older. Aging inherently leads to suffering, debilitation and loss – this is not news. What Mitchell’s performance of the song confirmed in 2022 is that it can also bring serendipity, long-awaited gratification, and joy. Ever working on reinterpreting her own material, Mitchell has breathed new meaning into some of her most famous songs. She sang with Carlyle, “I can drink a can of you, and I’ll still be on my feet,” and the line became not only a challenge to the lover, but one survivor’s boasts about life itself.
Part of what is encouraging about Mitchell’s recent cultural revival of pop music, such as Bush’s sudden return to the chart, is that it allows a beloved if somewhat underappreciated artist to get her laurels while she’s still alive. (Winona Judd, still grieving for her mother Naomi’s death, was also on stage with Mitchell and cried publicly throughout “Both Sides, Now”—a visual reminder of a harsher fate and the dichotomy inherent in the song.) It seemed like a quietly drastic act to honor Mitchell in this way. Younger artists got a chance to honor older ones in earnest; A mature woman who had not yet finished reinterpreting her life’s work took back the stage.
Surrounded by a throng of friends, musicians, and adoring fans—many of whom were not yet born when Mitchell wrote “Both Sides, Now”—she seemed to sing it this time with a wide grin: I really don’t know life at all. As if to say: you never know – anything can happen. Even this.
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