On my drive home from work, I play a game sometimes.
I choose a song to listen to on YouTube. When it finishes and when I get to a stop sign, I look through the suggested songs at the bottom and choose one. That’s the game.
I typically get through three or four songs this way. (I have a 25 minute drive but not so many stops along the winding mountain roads.)
I play this game, as opposed to creating a playlist or listening to a CD, because I am lazy and because Pandora doesn’t work in Israel and because I have this notion that there is a certain magic to the way songs appear in the recommended song section, as opposed to this thing called an “algorithm” I hear so much about but have no idea what it really, truly means. And anyway, I’d rather believe in magic, in an elf DJ who lives inside my smartphone.
It was in this way that I came upon a live version of Both Sides Now sung in 2000 by Joni Mitchell.
I was first introduced to this song in 1988 by my friend Suzanne. I remember because anything folksy or hippiesh I pretty much learned from Suzanne, whose parents were once, apparently, hippie-like, or at least more hippie-like than any of my other friend’s parents in that they owned a guitar and watched Woody Allen movies and collected Bob Dylan records and other stuff I am not at liberty to reveal because you can only embarrass your own parents on your blog, not somebody else’s.
I say this only to let you know that I’ve been listening to Both Sides Now for a long time. I know all the words. I know Joni’s voice and pitch in the song by heart. It made many a mixed tape because I loved it so.
So when I heard Joni from 2000 sing Both Sides Now on my smartphone today, I almost didn’t recognize her. Her voice had changed so. It’s deeper, raspier, more…broken. In a way middle aged women are broken. In a way moons and Junes and Ferris wheels one day become broken after years of working hard on automatic.
I, like I’m sure many who’ve heard this later version of Joni sing this poignant song, thought, “how very perfect.” She is singing this from the other side, and the change in her voice — now alto and smoky with maturity — matches perfectly the impression of being there, then, in the days when clouds only block the sun. One listens to this version and really feels as if Joni has been through it all. One listens to this version and can sense beneath the vocals an oh so subtle laughter, as if…
She sounds resigned, Joni, and yet, satisfied. Good with the turns her life took. Or at least accepting of them, even those which were unexpected.
I listened to her and thought about the girl I once was; the girl who once listened to this song mournfully, as if I was already on the other side. As if…
I sang out loud and wondered, “what would you hear in my voice now?” You who knew me when I was young. You who knew me before the years… Before the years carried me over into the other side?