Both Sides Now – a worthy song about many things

From where I sit, one of America’s greatest songwriters is Joni Mitchell. Perhaps my favorite song of hers is “Both Sides Now.” Ironically, it was popularized by Suite Judy Blue Eyes herself, Judy Collins. I also enjoy Neil Diamond’s version with his deeper voice, but Judy’s version is the one most folks know. First, let’s take a peek at the lyrics:

Bows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

Oh but now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost but something’s gained
In living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From WIN and LOSE and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all

In addition to melancholic and reflective nature of the song, “Both Sides Now” resonates with me as it makes you think of issues, events and people from different perspectives. How we view things is based on our history of experiences. A line from the Heart song “Straight on for You” would reinforce this “what the winner don’t know the gambler understands.”

Mitchell starts with clouds as we lie on our backs and reflect. I find this a clever metaphor. Yet, what you see in the clouds can and will change. Not to mention when you ask someone else what he or she sees, you are likely to get a different answer. So, we really don’t know clouds at all, as what can be seen varies, even with the same observer.

But, the same holds true for love and life, as well. In the US, about half the people who get married, eventually get divorced. Once the passion abates from its peak, people have a different set of experiences and perspectives. As an old fart who has been married for twenty-eight years, it is important that you like your spouse, as well as love her or him. If you don’t, then your marriage will have some challenges. So, we all have viewed love from both sides now.

This goes hand-in-hand with life, as well. Think back on how many opinions of yours have changed over the years. Think back on who you thought were true friends, who you do not involve yourself with anymore. Think back on how it was to struggle with a budget and how it is far easier to make ends meet when you have some money. With the number of people who have been exposed to the precipice of poverty or who have fallen over the cliff, many never imagined that this could happen to them. Your perspective changes when you have to stand in a line to collect unemployment benefits or go on food stamps.

I was thinking about this song after I read the post by Emily January on “Zenzele: a letter for my daughter,” especially when she speaks of the two men you will meet – the one you will be madly in love with and the one who will be your rock to live with day-in and day-out. I also believe my love for this song is a reason why I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s books. He describes himself as an outsider based on how he looked and who his parents were, a multi-racial couple (one from Jamaica and one from England) growing up in Toronto. So, he has an uncanny ability to see things from both sides or at least two perspectives. He is constantly challenging normative thoughts and beliefs as he can see things from an outside in perspective.

Joni, as per usual, you got it right. Your song stands the test of time due to the underlying truth in the lyrics. Thanks for setting your wonderful scripted words to such a beautiful melody.