Brian Lloyd

Brian Lloyd earned his Ph.D. in American Culture from the University of Michigan in 1991.  For two decades he worked and published in the field of U.S. intellectual history, but is now engaged in a study of the interplay between political aspirations and formal innovations in 1960s rock and roll.   He is the author, most recently, of “The Form is the Message: Bob Dylan and the 1960s" (Rock Music Studies, 2014).

"Love and Innovation:  Joni Mitchell, Folk Music, and the 1960s"
Joni Mitchell first tried out her songwriting skills as a participant in the mid-60s folk music scene.  From the beginning, however, she refused to be constrained by the conventions of the genre.  At times toying with these conventions, at other times ignoring them altogether, Mitchell displayed in her first songs a highly original approach to composition.  Musicians at the time recognized this immediately, but scholars and music critics since have had more success documenting than explaining the respect she earned from the artists who heard her when she was just getting started.  What, exactly, made her songs so distinctive?  Is the notion of gender a help or hindrance in uncovering the secret of her originality?  I will venture some answers to these questions in the course of analyzing several songs on her first album (Song to a Seagull, 1968).  I will pay particular attention to form – how she strung chords together, arranged verses and choruses, and then arrayed melodies over these newfangled song structures.  I will make some quick comparisons with what Van Ronk, Baez, and Dylan were doing as composers and arrangers, and conclude with some observations about what, in all this, might be gender-specific.  My presentation will itself be a performance, as I will bring a guitar and demonstrate for the audience the formal innovations highlighted in the paper.