avatar for Nicolette Rohr

Nicolette Rohr

Nicolette Rohr is a PhD candidate in History at the University of California, Riverside. Her work explores women and popular music fandom in the 1960s and has been published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She holds an MA in Public History and co-curated an exhibition of photographer Garry Winogrand’s Women are Beautiful at the California Museum of Photography in 2013. In 2015, she was a Visiting Scholar at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives.

"'A Lonely Road': Personal Politics and Listening to Joni Mitchell"
Joni Mitchell is often portrayed as the ultimate “hippie chick”—long “rows and flows” of hair and an acoustic guitar.  Her relationship to the counterculture, however, was tenuous. Often heralded as a leader of the singer-songwriter genre, signaling an inward turn from the sixties, Mitchell’s broad musical vocabulary and range of expression was rooted in sixties culture.  Often celebrated as a pioneering woman, Mitchell has been reluctant to embrace a role as a feminist icon. The labels and mislabels of Joni Mitchell well reflect the complex, often fraught intersections of women and music. At the same time, Mitchell and her music represent the spaces many women negotiated in both music and politics, heightened by the context of the women’s liberation movement and clarified by the sixties maxim that the personal is political. “I never really liked lines, class lines, social structure lines, and I ignored them always,” Mitchell said. Rooted in folk scenes, she embraced rock, pop, and jazz. And while her overt participation in the political movements of the era was limited, her music and her presence in the music world was significant to many women engaged in political struggles, including the women’s liberation movement. Keeping all of these lines, labels, and mislabels in mind, this paper will cull reflections on Mitchell, both from the time and in retrospect, to consider the meaning of Mitchell and her music in context. How did women respond to Mitchell and the range, expression, and attitude of her music? By featuring voices of fans and listeners, this presentation reconsiders Mitchells’ significance through the lenses of gender, fandom, and audiences while also shedding light on the broader role of music in influencing political, social, and cultural change by considering the music women listened to, the ways it made them feel, and what it led them to imagine.