The great Canadian singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote a powerful song in 1969 when she was 26 years old called The Fiddle and the Drum. Joni wrote the song as a concerned friend of the United States and now, nearly forty years later, her words still ring and sting with a righteous vengeance as exampled in this pointed excerpt:

You say I have turned
Like the enemies you’ve earned

But I can remember

All the good things you are

And so I ask you please

Can I help you find the peace and the star

Oh, my friend
What time is this

To trade the handshake for the fist

And so once again

Oh, America my friend

And so once again

You are fighting us all

And when we ask you why

You raise your sticks and cry and we fall

Oh, my friend

How did you come

To trade the fiddle for the drum

The magic of Mitchell’s music is how it can bend time and force remembrance.
And so once again we are all transfixed as she pulls the lessons of 1969 forward under our noses in 2006.
And so once again we are all left wondering how we came to give up our love of the sound of the fiddle after harvest in exchange for the booming drum of war beating across nations far from our fields at home.

16 Comments

  1. I’m glad you remember Joni from way back, Alexis! I don’t remember much of her early career, but I do have the “Rock Icons” DVD of “The Dick Cavett Show” from 1969 where she sang “The Fiddle and the Drum” a cappella on the show live. It is a glorious and haunting performance!
    Jefferson Airplane and David Crosby and Stephen Stills were all on that same show — and all so young and talented and raw and beautiful – and they all just returned from performing at Woodstock.

  2. You know David I think I remember that Dick Cavett show and it was her coming out party, right? No one really knew her then. She was wearing a flowing dress.

  3. You are right, Alexis! Joni was sort of awkward and insecure on the Cavett show, but her supreme talent gave her confidence beyond her years. She wore a long, flowing, green dress.
    She sang all by herself on “Fiddle” and played piano on another song.
    It was a truly magical set and Dick Cavett, a good ole Lincoln, Nebraska boy who made good and graduated from Lincoln High School, found his own way on that memorable show.

  4. I have only listened the A Perfect Circle version only, I must confess. That’s how I met this song. I’m not even American nor Canadian, and I know just a little bit about Joni Mitchell, from TV documentals, and stuff like that. But when I heard this song for the first time, I felt something deep down inside. It really moved me. And I looked for info about this song, and that’s how I found this website. The lyrics are powerful, touching, and I bet they were felt with mixed and perhaps opposite feelings when it was heard for the first time back in the 60’s. Now I think I missed those moments, but blame it on me… I hadn’t been born. I’m only 29 (Only?) Anyway… I just wanted to comment on this song. Thanks…

  5. Hi keithxdan —
    Joni Mitchell is a huge talent. If you catch her performance of this song on the Dick Cavett CD you’ll see her young and full of promise and you’ll know what a real star looks like in the hand.