When Joni Mitchell Failed to Convict Bob Dylan

Joni Mitchell’s creative approach to creating music frequently goes beyond lyrics and melodies. One incident involving her song “Dancin’ Clown” sticks out, in which she had pictured Bob Dylan playing a distinct role, which he later lost to another superstar. ‘Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced,’ a four-CD box set featuring the musician’s previously released songs about love and heartbreak, was released in 2014. ‘Dancin’ Clown’ was a song from her 1988 album ‘Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm’ that was also included in her 2014 box set. The singer, who earlier stated that she saw her songs as films, was forced to hire Tom Petty instead of her old chum Bob Dylan. In a 2014 interview with NPR, Joni explained how Dylan lost his role to Petty. The singer recalls her original desire to position Bob as the victim in her plot by explaining: “I envisioned Billy Idol as the bully, and Bob Dylan as his victim.” Yeah, I called, Bob was recording, and he didn’t accept my calls, so I thought, ‘Oh, forget it.’ I got Tom Petty to perform it because he was in town. And then Bob contacted me and asked, [impersonating Bob Dylan], ‘What did you put him on for? That was something I wanted to do.” The singer claimed that she was working on a tight timeline and had to work with who was immediately accessible.

She went on to say: “I told her, ‘Well, you know, I know you were working, but I was working, and there was a deadline.'” ‘Yeah, but that song, ‘Dancin’ Clown,’ I liked that song, ‘Dancin’ Clown,’ I said, imitating Bob Dylan. ‘How did you come up with that music, you know?’ I stated, ‘Off a racing sheet.’ [In the style of Bob Dylan] ‘Oh, I had that thought. I thought that was a terrible idea.’ That’s exactly what he said!” Mitchell revealed his talk with Dylan about ‘Dancin’ Clown,’ and added insight into their relationship: “[Imitating Bob Dylan] ‘Those people are kind of geniuses that name those horses, aren’t they?’ I said, ‘Well, no. It’s just in the breeding, you know. Like it’s half the mare’s name and half the sire’s name.’ [Imitating Bob Dylan] ‘Oh.’ [Laughs.] So, we have some funny conversations, old Bobby and I.” You may listen to Dancin’ Clown’ below and read Joni Mitchell’s 2014 interview with NPR here.

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