Song of the Day #4,618: ‘Coyote’ – Joni Mitchell

I’ve seen a lot of fans name 1976’s Hejira, Joni Mitchell’s eighth album, as their favorite of her releases. And I get it. This is a lush, emotional, warm record, brimming with great poetry and beautiful music.

But it’s also a bit of a chore. The nine-song cycle runs over 50 minutes, with multiple tracks topping the six-minute mark. None of the songs have traditional choruses, just four or five (or six) long meandering verses. This album requires you to either pay very close attention or pay no attention at all.

It works better for me when I do the latter, letting Mitchell’s voice blend with the lovely instrumentation to make for hypnotic background music. I don’t have the patience to hang on every word, especially when the melodies are so far from catchy.

Opening track ‘Coyote,’ written about Sam Shepard, is a notable exception. While it takes the same form as the rest of Hejira‘s songs, this one works like gangbusters. It’s among the best songs I’ve heard from Mitchell through these first eight albums.

Mitchell wrote these songs while crossing the country, falling in and out of love affairs, and joining Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue for a spell. Her life would make for one hell of a movie, though I doubt she’ll ever permit one.

The famously prickly musician trashed rumors of a Taylor Swift-starring film a couple of years ago, saying “I don’t know what her music sounds like, but I do know this – that if she’s going to sing and play me, good luck.”

No regrets Coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I’m up all night in the studios
And you’re up early on your ranch
You’ll be brushing out a brood mare’s tail
While the sun is ascending
And I’ll just be getting home with my reel to reel
There’s no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay
You’re not a hit and run driver no no
Racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
And we rolled right past that tragedy
Till we turned into some road house lights
Where a local band was playing
Locals were up kicking and shaking on the floor
And the next thing I know
That coyote’s at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won’t take no
He drags me out on the dance floor
And we’re dancing close and slow
Now he’s got a woman at home
He’s got another woman down the hall
He seems to want me anyway
Why’d you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

I looked a coyote right in the face
On the road to Baljennie near my old home town
He went running thru the whisker wheat
Chasing some prize down
And a hawk was playing with him
Coyote was jumping straight up and making passes
He had those same eyes just like yours
Under your dark glasses
Privately probing the public rooms
And peeking thru keyholes in numbered doors
Where the players lick their wounds
And take their temporary lovers
And their pills and powders to get them thru this passion play
No regrets Coyote
I’ll just get off up aways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Coyote’s in the coffee shop
He’s staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he’s watching the waitresses’ legs
He’s too far from the Bay of Fundy
From appaloosas and eagles and tides
And the air conditioned cubicles
And the carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
Either he’s going to have to stand and fight
Or take off out of here
I tried to run away myself
To run away and wrestle with my ego
And with this flame
You put here in this Eskimo
In this hitcher
In this prisoner
Of the fine white lines
Of the white lines on the free free way

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,618: ‘Coyote’ – Joni Mitchell

  1. Amy says:

    If this is the best of the songs on this album, I wouldn’t have the patience for it either. It’s making me a bit anxious listening to it this morning. I’m shocked you consider this a favorite over any of the gems on the previous three albums! Give me a freaking chorus and a bridge. She’s undoubtedly right that Swift would be out of her element playing her in a film , but I bet she’d make this song a whole lot more enjoyable with a quick rewrite 😜

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    This song is actually more catchy than I expected it to be despite the amorphous structure.

    As for a bio-pic, it may gave to be posthumous I think Lily James might do a decent job, though maybe someone lesser known would work better.

  3. Rob says:

    If you are interested, here is a link to a live performance of “Coyote” from The Band’s “The Last Waltz” concert film. She is backed by the Band, and they hit this song out of the park – in my humble opinion.

  4. Peg says:

    I really like this song! Thank you Rob for sharing the video.

  5. andrea katz says:

    Oy

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