“The last time I saw Richard was Detroit in ‘68,
And he told me all romantics meet the same fate someday
Cynical and drunk and boring someone in some dark cafe”.
The haunting opening line of Joni Mitchell’s song, “The last time I saw Richard” from her 1971 LP ‘Blue’. Anyone familiar with this album will know it contains doses of both confessional longing and romantic disillusionment. I once heard it described as, “…beautiful pain.”
When I was in my twenties, a friend of mine used to like to tease me because I was a hopeless romantic and they joked that one day I too would meet a similar fate to the character in the song. In more recent years I have begun to wonder if maybe they were right? I may have avoided becoming a drunk but I have noticed developing in myself a deeper sense of disillusionment and at times, cynicism towards life.
In a 1979 Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe, Mitchell said of ‘Blue’:
“There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals. At that period of my life, I had no personal defences. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either.”
The emotional rawness on ‘Blue’ is something I can relate to. After the death of my girlfriend Elaine, I found it was an album that I played continuously. It was as if the songs on ‘Blue’ mirrored my own desolate inner landscape of feeling broken hearted and disillusioned by life.
As we engage with our lives we will all undergo a journey from naive innocence to mature experience and this seems part of a natural process of becoming an adult in the world. As I look at my own life, I often ask myself the question: Can I stay open hearted in relationship to the world, or is living with a certain level of disillusionment and cynicism just a part of getting older?
The answer is, I like to believe it is possible to carry the wounds that come from being in the world, but that we can also simultaneously step into life feeling connected to others. Allowing ourselves to be seen, to love and be loved, to be vulnerable, strong and to get things right and make mistakes. Embracing our lives more fully, building a deeper relationship with what it is to be fully human and alive.