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Joni Mitchell shares first-ever video for ‘River’

Fifty years on from its release

By Joe Goggins

Still from Joni Mitchell's 'River' video, 2021
Mitchell's legendary 'Blue' turned 50 this year. (Photo: YouTube)

Joni Mitchell has shared the first-ever video for ‘River’, fifty years on from its release.

The classic track, from the Canadian icon’s seminal ‘Blue’, has long been a wistful festive staple, meaning yesterday (December 23) was a fitting date on which to release director Matvey Rezanov’s artful visual take on the track. You can watch it below.

The video, produced by Rezanov and Skazka Studios, is a black-and-white animation that sees a cartoon Mitchell skating along the frozen river that the lyrics evoke. Eventually, it cracks, with the visuals segueing into colour. The accompanying press release said that the video “[captures] the song’s lonesome mood while paying tribute to Mitchell’s prolific creativity as a painter.”

Mitchell went on to add her own comments on one of her best-loved songs, saying: “‘River’ expresses regret at the end of a relationship, but it’s also about being lonely at Christmas time. A Christmas song for people who are lonely at Christmas! We need a song like that.”

Mitchell made a rare public appearance earlier this week. On Wednesday (December 22), she received a lifetime achievement award at the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors, which awards those in the performing arts for their contributions to American culture. President Joe Biden was on hand to award Mitchell with the prize, becoming the first commander-in-chief to attend the Honors since 2016; Donald Trump skipped it every year of his presidency.

Paying tribute to Mitchell, Biden said: “Your words and melodies touch the deepest parts of our souls. [Mitchell has] a capacity to love with abandon, and she does it by letting us in, by sharing what’s deeply personal and yet universal. It’s why millions of people will listen to her songs and feel they were written just for them.”

Biden called ‘Blue’ “one of the best albums ever, ever, ever” and claimed that Mitchell “[touched] the range of human nature and the sense of struggle and how we overcome and how we love”. Performances in her honour at the ceremony came from Ellie Goulding, playing ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, Norah Jones, who played ‘A Case of You’ and ‘The Circle Game’, and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, who performed ‘Both Sides, Now’.

Mitchell will pick up another prestigious gong in the new year; she was confirmed back in August as MusiCares’ 2022 Person of the Year. Previous recipients include Dolly Parton, Carole King and Barbra Streisand. A tribute concert with an as-yet-unconfirmed bill will take place in Los Angeles on January 29th.