Both Sides Now by Cora Treoir Duncan: Clouds

To many of a certain age I need not explain the choice of my column title. Joni Mitchell’s 1967 song ‘Both Sides, Now’ (a/k/a ‘Clouds’) written when she was 24 was a Top Ten hit in 1967 by Judy Collins and was an anthem for millions of us girls.

For me it was a closely kept talisman song that I sang secretly. I soon buried my infatuation with the song under an avalanche of manly musical dissertations on love as I struggled into early adulthood, surging into a clumsy hyper-masculine parody while pretending to be the male I outwardly appeared to be. I quietly continued to favor female singers (Joni, Judy, Linda, Sandy Denny and soon Dolly and Emmylou) but in my musical world women were second class citizens, like me. I inhabited the closet musically, as I did with my gender identity.

The song faded from my consciousness until thirty years later when I heard Joni’s 2000 re-recording in which she re-framed the song from the vantage point of age, performed slowly and half spoken. The reconstruction was trans-formative and hit me harder than I would have imagined. It opened up a floodgate of emotion, brimming with recognition and sorrow. Where I had superficially related as a youth, not really able to comprehend the connection to my life, now in my sixties the song cut to my core and documented my life in three verses. Every word was pregnant with meaning; every metaphor on target and I wept as I listened to it on repeat for forty miles.

That first verse about clouds never touched me when I was young. It seemed too girly and a clue I could not embrace. Now I clearly see those clouds as the excuses I manufactured to avoid my own truth and delay the day of reckoning. Verse two speaks of love in terms of fantasy, alludes to the sadness of loss in love and how the naive heart can turn to leather and laugh at its own innocence in retrospect. I have become that person, ironically seeking to be resolute and self-contained while my Soul cries for a partner. The last verse surrounds life in change and rejection but again finds the hidden gift in the final summing of what remains

The refrain, the last line of each verse, states the inevitable sweet hard truth. It has all been illusion and as deeply as I’ve dug, as intensely as I have pursued answers I still fall short of my ice cream castles. I really don’t understand clouds, love or life at all. I must put a bookmark in place at the end of a day so I will not have to start from the beginning again.

In my recent past I have gained new respect for Sorrow and now welcome it as Joy’s fraternal twin. It completes each change naturally, for there is always pain and loss in transit. Yes, I missed opportunities with lame excuses. Idealized love to the point of caricature and suffered loss and bittersweet triumph in my life. I am here now, between lives, straddling the past and future at once.

But now, it’s just another show.

You leave them laughing when you go…

and if you care, don’t let them know.

Don’t give yourself away

Time stops and space expands. I don’t care; it doesn’t matter. I am crying and smiling at the same time.

I have lived, Both Sides, NOW.

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