Joni Mitchell – Star of Crete

I have to say here and now that I am a great fan of Joni Mitchell. The posts that I have written here regarding her time in Crete and the video of the song Carey that I placed a week or two ago have generated so much response that I think that perhaps readers of this blog like her too.

Her songs are so unique. They are musically and poetically so different from other songs or artists that perhaps you either love her or loathe her. She has made many albums, some more successful than others but to see her ‘live’ when she sang these songs was the most amazing thing.

She did a concert for the BBC Television in 1970 and she sang beautifully:

Hard to believe that in fact she is older than me. She was born Roberta Joan Anderson on 7th November 1943 and she grew up busking on the west coast of Canada. Her life details are available to all on Wikipedia. The song Carey is available on her album ‘Blue’, an excellent album.

As far as I can make out she was in Crete, mainly in Matala, in 1968 to 1969. She must have written the song Carey about this time I guess.

Today she is approaching her 65th birthday in November this year. She is still singing. One of her earliest songs was called ‘Both Sides Now’. A lovely song of novelty and a freshness about about life. Here it is performed in 1970.

Here is the lyric:

Rows and floes of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and junes and ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all.

It was a song from a young girl trying to understand life and also accepting her lack of understanding. Fast forward forty years and Joni Mitchell on her latest album has decided to sing this same song very differently. The words are the same but the song now seems to contain forty or more years experience. By choosing the same song that made her so popular long ago and singing it today almost in a new light shows her great ability and her dignity.

So here it is: ‘Both Sides Now’ made in the year 2000 – 57 years after she was born.

I hope you enjoyed her.

Matala and Joni Mitchell.

For all those of you who responded to my last posting, here are the words of Joni Mitchell herself regarding Matala in Crete and the song ‘Carey’. It appears that Joni was in Matala, Crete around 1968/69 – three years after 1966 when I went there and it seems that it had developed a bit from my time. . . .

The following extract is from an interview with Joni Mitchell by Rolling Stone in early 1971

Joni on Early Rolling Stone Magazine

“Matala was a very small bay with cliffs on two sides. And between the two cliffs, on the beach, there were about four or five small buildings. There were also a few fishermen huts.

“The caves were on high sedimentary cliffs, sandstone, a lot of seashells in it. The caves were carved out by the Minoans hundreds of years ago. Then they were used later on for leper caves. Then after that the Romans came, and they used them for burial crypts. Then some of them were filled in and sealed up for a long time. People began living there, beatniks, in the fifties. Kids gradually dug out more rooms. There were some people there who were wearing human teeth necklaces around their necks,” she said with a slight frown.

“We all put on a lot of weight. We were eating a lot of apple pies, good bacon. We were eating really well, good wholesome food.

“The village pretty well survived from the tourist trade, which was the kids that lived in the caves. I don’t know what their business was before people came. There were a couple of fishing boats that went out, that got enough fish to supply the two restaurants there.

“The bakery lady who had the grocery store there had fresh bread, fresh rice pudding, made nice yogurt every day, did a thriving business; and ended up just before I left, she installed a refrigerator. She had the only cold drinks in town. It was all chrome and glass. It was a symbol of her success.

“Then the cops came and kicked everyone out of the caves, but it was getting a little crazy there. Everybody was getting a little crazy there. Everybody was getting more and more into open nudity. They were really going back to the caveman. They were wearing little loincloths. The Greeks couldn’t understand what was happening.”

Joni Mitchell in 1970

Joni Mitchell – 1970
photo by Henry Diltz

Then during a performance at The Troubadour, Joni introduced the song “Carey” with the following story (transcribed from the tape by Kakki).

“I went to Greece a couple years ago and over there I met a very unforgettable character. I have a hard time remembering people’s names like so I have to remember things by association, even unforgettable characters, I have to remember by association, so his name was “Carrot” Raditz, Carey Raditz, and oh, he’s a great character. He’s got sort of a flaming red personality, and flaming red hair and a flaming red appetite for red wine and he fancied himself to be a gourmet cook, you know, if he could be a gourmet cook in a cave in Matala. And he announced to my girlfriend and I the day that we met him that he was the best cook in the area and he actually was working at the time I met him – he was working at this place called the Delphini restaurant – until it exploded, singed half of the hair off of his beard and his legs, and scorched his turban, melted down his golden earrings.

Anyway, one day he decided he was going to cook up a feast, you know, so we had to go to market because like in the village of Matala there was one woman who kind of had a monopoly – well actually there were three grocery stores but she really had a monopoly and because of her success and her affluence she had the only cold storage in the village, too, so she had all the fresh vegetables and all the cold soft drinks and she could make the yogurt last a longer than anyone else, and we didn’t feel like giving her any business that day. Rather than giving her our business we decided to walk ten miles to the nearest market.

So I had ruined the pair of boots that I’d brought with me from the city because they were really “citified” kind of slick city boots that were meant to walk on flat surfaces. The first night there we drank some Raki and I tried to climb the mountain and that was the end of those shoes. So he lent me these boots of his which were like Li’l Abner boots – like those big lace-up walking boots and a pair of Afghani socks which made my feet all purple at the end of the day and I laced them up around my ankles and I couldn’t touch any – the only place my foot touched was on the bottom, you know, there was nothing rubbing in the back or the sides – they were huge and he wasn’t very tall, either, come to think of it was kind of strange – I guess he had sort of webbed feet or something but we started off on this long trek to the village, I forget the name of it now, between Matala and Iraklion – and started off in the cool of the morning and by the time we got halfway there we were just sweltering me in these thick Afghani socks and heavy woollens and everything, so we went into the ruins of King Phestos’s palace to sit down and have a little bit of a rest and while we were there these two tourist buses pulled up and everybody got off the buses in kind of an unusual symmetry, you know, they all sort of walked alike and talked alike and they all kind of looked alike and they all filed over to a series of rubblely rocks- a wall that was beginning to crumble – lined themselves up in a row and took out their viewing glasses, overgrown opera glasses, and they started looking at the sky and suddenly this little speck appeared on the horizon that came closer and closer, this little black speck.

Cary was standing behind all of this leaning on his cane and as it came into view he suddenly broke the silence of this big crowd and he yells out “it’s ah MAAGPIE” in his best North Carolina drawl. And suddenly all the glasses went down in symmetry and everybody’s heads turned around to reveal that they were all very birdlike looking people. They had long skinny noses – really – they had been watching birds so long that they looked like them, you know – and this one woman turned around and she says to him (in British accent) “it’s NOT a magpie – it’s a crooked crow.” Then she very slowly and distinctly turned her head back, picked up her glasses and so did everybody else and we kept on walking. Bought two kilos of fish which would have rotted in the cave hadn’t it been for the cats.

When we got back from that walk Stelios, who was the guy who ran the Mermaid Cafe, had decided to put an addition on his kitchen which turned out to be really illegal and it was so illegal, as a matter of fact, that the Junta dragged him off to jail and torture was legal over there – they burnt his hands and his feet with cigarette butts mainly because they hated, you know, all of the Canadians and Americans and wandering Germans living in the caves but they couldn’t get them out of there because it was controlled by the same archaeologist that controlled the ruins of King Phestos’s palace and he didn’t mind you living there as long as you didn’t Day-Glo all of the caves and everyone was like putting all of their psychedelia over all this ancient writing. So they carted him off to jail…” (End of tape)

Matala In The Sixties.

Those of you who may have read my ‘Early Days’ stuff on this website will have come across my visit to Matala in 1966. Or you may have heard the stories from the days when this tiny bay became the hippie capital of Crete. Why it happened I don’t know, but the bay was truly beautiful. It has lovely fine sand and the cliff on the right as you look out westwards towards the sunset has a large number of roman burial places, effectively caves where you could stay if you had a sleeping bag.

When I went there it was truly amazing. To have been through many cretan villages seeing only cretans, I washed up in this lovely place to see dozens of hippies just lying in the sun and enjoying themselves. Their colorful clothes a stark contrast to the cretans. There were one or two stone houses and a kind of cave church, but it did not seem that any locals lived there at all.

There was a temporary taverna stroke bar that one of the cretans had set up on the beach and with some beers and some wine and a souvlaki barbecue he did very well. I remember that he also had an old Philips record player there that worked on batteries and he played LPs over and over. That was the Mermaid Cafe as everyone called it.

Today there are hotels and rent-rooms establishments as well as tavernas and in the summer it is chaos. In the winter though, almost nobody lives in Matala. There are no cars and it is almost like it used to be, but no hippies, of course. Oh, and you are not allowed to sleep in the caves anymore.

I never met anyone famous when I was there, but one of the people that spent some time in Matala was Joni Mitchell and she wrote her famous song Carey all about the place, the beach, and it always brings it all back to me.

The Magical Mesara Plain.

In the whole of the island of Crete, one area that is still magical today as well as being vitally important to the history of Crete, is the Mesara Plain. The  Mesara is in southern central Crete in the south of the Nomos of Iraklion. It is the biggest plain in Crete and very important for the extensive agriculture that is produced there both now and around five thousand years ago.

The name ‘Mesara’ comes from the Greek for ‘between mountains.’ Mesos – between, oros – mountains, which becomes Mesaoria or the modern word, Mesara. In the north are the southern foothills of the Psiloritis or Ida mountain range and in the south are the Asterousian mountains between the Mesara and the Libyan Sea. The coastline of the Mesara faces west almost from Agia Galini in the north to Matala in the south. Between the two is one of the most perfect and extensive beaches in Crete, mostly with hardly a soul to be seen.

Two rivers flow through the Mesara and both have their source near to the village of Asimi. From there they flow in opposite directions. Geropotamos, known in ancient times as Lethaios, flows westwards to the sea and out into the Gulf of Mesara. Anapodaris, ancient name Katarhaktes, flows into the bay of Derma, east of the village of Tsoutsouros.

Here in the Mesara in ancient times, civilisation grew from Neolithic (5th Century BC) to the modern day. During the Minoan Prepalatial period growth was amazing (4th & 3rd centuries BC) where huge leaps forward were taken in architecture, pottery, the incredible circular tholos tombs, Agios Onoufrios and Kamares ware, countless figurines, seals and jewelry were produced.

In the first Palace period we see the palace at Festos being built (1900 – 1700 BC). The second Palace period was centered around the later palace at Festos, the palatial buildings at Agia Triada and at the port of Kommos just north of Matala near Pitsidia (1700 – 1300 BC).

Later the came Gortyn, the magnificent city that dominated the Mesara for sixteen centuries, from 800BC to 800AD. Gortyn is situated just west of Agioi Deka and covered a diameter of ten kilometres. It is said that in its greatest years over 80,000 people lived in Gortyn and in Roman times it became not only the capital of Crete but the Capital of Cyrene as well (North Africa).

There is still a plane tree in the ruins of Gortyn that keeps its leaves all year. Under that tree Zeus made love to Europa and the children that they produced were Minos, the king at Knossos and his brother Rhadamantys, King of Festos.