It’s life’s illusions I recall

Why do I love the soon-to-be-seventy Joni Mitchell, and somewhat resent the soon-to-be-thirty Edward Snowden?  I think it’s because Joni asked me to look inside myself and question my assumptions, while Edward hit me over the head with them.

This week we celebrated two game-changers. Joni  Mitchell, famously camera-shy, gave an interview to CBC prior to being honoured at the Luminato Festival in Toronto. Edward Snowden, previously unknown, exposed to The Guardian the data-mining of the US government. Both these people have forced us to examine our assumptions, and both confirmed our suspicions.

I never really understood that what I knew of life and love were self-delusions, but Joni revealed that to me. More recently, I supposed that some government agency somewhere was keeping track of phone and email connections, and Edward Snowden confirmed that.

Joni Mitchell spoke, and still speaks, to my heart first and my mind second. When she told me that they paved Paradise (Park) to put up a parking lot, the words reverberated throughout my being. I got it. I knew what she meant.  When Edward Snowden told me that some government agencies knew which phone numbers I had called and where I sent my emails, I thought “So what?”

If the authorities know how often I call my family and friends, they gain very little. When they take down trees in my neighbourhood, I lose a lot. Joni sang “It’s life’s illusions I recall; I really don’t know life at all.” The illusion today is that it matters who knows my communication habits, but it really doesn’t.


  1. Maybe Edward Snowden should have sung his revelations. You might have found them more amenable. I have to say that I found him quite impressive in his interview from Hong Kong. His line of thought was one that I could easily follow and might even have followed had I been in his shoes.

    Nobody’s life is as pure as the driven snow and faced with the choice of criticising the government and having something embarrassing about your private life quietly leaked to the local paper on the one hand, or keeping schtumm and remaining Mr. or Mrs. Perfect on the other, I think most people would choose the latter. It is therefore a wonderful way of dissuading people from criticism. I have always thought how awful it must be to be famous and always be on your guard that you don’t say the wrong thing. Now all of us might soon get to know just how being famous feels. Until today I have never felt this way. Now I do.

    I have always thought that ‘Both Sides Now’ is one of the best written songs ever. Something about the three stanzas, the rhyme scheme and the way it soars for a moment before coming back down to earth again, as though young hope had been deflated, are almost perfect. I have to say I prefer it sung by Judy Collins. The purists might not agree but I’m not convinced that Joni’s singing matches her song-writing talent.

    1. Oh, yes. There is no question that Snowden is courageous. He is also very self-composed, articulate, and intelligent.

      My thoughts in this post were really about how his revelations, no matter how significant, somehow did not move me emotionally. They probably should have, and I wonder why they didn’t.

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

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