“I wish I had a river so long,
I would teach my feet to fly.
Oh, I wish I had a river,
I could skate away on.”
River :: Joni Mitchell
from the album, Blue (1971)
“River” is a folk song that has become somewhat of a Christmastime standard, written and performed by Joni Mitchell, from her 1971 album, Blue. Although the song was never released as a single, it has become one of Mitchell’s most famous song. It is also the second-most widely recorded song in Mitchell’s oeuvre (432 different recordings), frequently appearing on albums of Christmas music, covered by pop, folk and jazz artists.
For me, two things come to mind when instantly when I hear “River”. The first is Los Angeles and California. This is a Southern California song, there is no doubt about it, and it has the quintessential LA juxtaposition of bittersweet regret and sunshiny hope that permeates my most favorite takes on the city of angels (whether in song, film or book pages).
There is something familiar in the lyrics, in the feelings evoked, and in the sentiment of losing someone you shouldn’t have that hit deep between my surfaces when I listen. It is also one of those songs that inspires me to write, wanting to fill in the spaces we don’t see in the story, of this love lost, and this woman, in the midst of a big city life, wishing for some river somewhere to skate away on.
Don’t you wonder about her story, too?