Song of the Day, November 7: Cactus Tree by Joni Mitchell

Today’s song is Cactus Tree by Joni Mitchell. It’s the closing track from her 1968 debut album, alternately known as Joni Mitchell and Song to a Seagull. Even this early in her career, Mitchell demonstrated a lyrical and musical complexity unusual in the confessional singer-songwriter folk mode. Her high, clear voice, not yet transformed by time and tobacco, carries the songs delightfully. Saving the best for last, she ends the album with this powerful track.

It’s a look at the darker side of independence, showing how refusing to make a choice can be a tragic choice in itself. The protagonist is a woman who dabbles with a wide variety of men, refusing to be tied down. Mitchell never condemns this choice, but shows that it does have consequences.

She will love them when she sees them
They will lose her if they follow
And she only means to please them
And her heart is full and hollow
Like a cactus tree
While she’s so busy being free

The powerful lyrics are ironically juxtaposed with an optimistic musical palette, further emphasizing the dichotomies of the song.

Today is Joni Mitchell’s 69th birthday. Wish her many happy returns and enjoy this beautiful song today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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