Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark (1974)
Throughout the next however many months I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number eighty-six.
I was a teenager, maybe 15 or 16. It was my first time doing this. How do we start? Will I feel amazing afterwards? Do I lie down right away? Is it lie or lay? I think it’s lie.
She had black hair, down to her shoulders, bangs in the front, the best place for bangs. I’m guessing she was in her forties, but I’m terrible with ages, so she could have been in her thirties. She could have been in her fifties, maybe even her sixties. I’m pretty sure she was not yet in her seventies, and I’m almost positive she hadn’t yet reached 80, though I wouldn’t put money on it.
I assumed she’d lead the way, as she had experience, a lot of it if she was in her nineties.
I didn’t know how to begin. Did I need to make small talk before we get into the reason she and I were there? I’m not good at small talk. I’m not much for any talk. That’s why my parents sent me to see her – Dr. Osmonté, the therapist in whose office I was sitting. Dr. Osmonté is not her real name. I’ll be using fake names throughout this essay, for even though everything I’m going to tell you about these people is true, I don’t want them suing me, not that I expect Dr. Osmonté to sue me. She must have better things to do at her age – 178. She and I talked a little at this first session, a little less at our second session. You could eavesdrop on a crowd of monks who’d taken a vow of silence convening at a library to study mime on the set of A Quiet Place and hear more chatter than you would have at our third session. Kudos to Dr. Osmonté for getting me to speak to my parents. “Sitting with Mrs. Marcel Marceau is a complete waste of my time and your money. I’m not going back.” One therapist down, many more to go.
Some therapists limit their speaking to one question: “Why do you think that is?” It works like this:
“Oh, Dr. Therapist, I’m feeling anxious all the time and find it difficult to concentrate on work.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m here.”
“Oh, Dr. Therapist. I’m afraid to leave my house out of a fear I’ll be mauled to death by a raccoon the size of a small child.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m here.”
Once I went to see a sports doctor. Raising my left arm caused me the kind of excruciating agony one feels watching a Steven Seagal movie. The doctor examined me and said “You tore your rotator cuff. I’ll give you a cortisone injection and I’ll tell you exercises to do to make it better.” THAT’S WHAT A DOCTOR IS SUPPOSED TO DO! What’s not supposed to happen is I say “Doctor, I can’t raise my arm without being in a lot of pain,” and he responds “Why do you think that is?”. I don’t know why! I didn’t go to medical school! I’ve never even watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. When I was young I shoplifted a copy of The How And Why Wonder Book Of The Human Body, but I threw it away when I saw that it wasn’t as titillating as its title suggested. You’re the doctor. You’re taking notes. Share!
One time I did see the doctor’s notes. I was 26 and wanted to get over my shyness, plus I was unsure about my sexual orientation. I thought I might be gay. I was physically, romantically and sexually attracted to men and couldn’t see any woman as more than just a friend, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I hadn’t been intimate with a man, though one guy got into my pants, literally. While trying on jeans at the 58th Street Bloomingdale’s, a sales clerk put his thumb in my waistband to see if I can go down a size. That triggered a sensation in me that I didn’t get from The How And Why Wonder Book Of The Human Body. Before I could process what was happening, the sales clerk asked me out to lunch and I said yes and two days later, me and my size 27 waist sat across from him at a table in a sandwich shop near my office, where I came out to him as straight. If you’ve ever had to come out as straight, you know it isn’t the easiest conversation. The other party may feel hurt or question if they did something wrong by bringing you a smaller size. The sales clerk and I never went on another date, which is for the better, as I wouldn’t want to be with someone who is obviously heterophobic. I was unsure if I wanted to keep dating men, so I sought the help of a therapist who worked out of a Greenwich Village clinic, where the walls were thinner and the rooms tinier than my size 27 waist. Size 27, people.
Our first session focused on my shyness. Not much was said, that’s how focused I was. For the first few minutes of our next session, the only sound coming from our room was the very loud crunch of my therapist – male, slender, a few years older than me (maybe), vaguely French though not to the point of being Belgian – biting pretzel rods. He never offered me one so we could masticate together.
Eventually he asked “What are you thinking CHOMP CHOMP?”
I said “I’m listening to the lady in the room next door. Jesus, does she have issues! I think she’s beyond help.” My therapist laughed, which, in retrospect, seems inappropriate, and then said “Let’s concentrate on you. What’s going on with you?” I told him I may be gay but maybe not and just as one test drives a car before one buys it, I wanted to give homosexuality a ride around the block to see if it was the model for me. My therapist wrote on his pad between gnaws.
“Excuse me a moment. I need to use the rest room,” he said as he suddenly got up and walked out of our cubbyhole. I took the opportunity to look at what he wrote.
In big letters across the page was “SEXUAL DEVIANT”. So wroteth the man who took pretzel rod after pretzel rod into his maw. What would Freud say about that? Probably nothing, as he was already dead.
Thinking he’s not the best fit for me (the vaguely French therapist, not Freud), I discontinued our sessions. Also, I decided to be a gay, in part just to spite him, but mostly because I was sexually attracted to men. Ninety-nine point nine percent the latter. Chew on that, therapist #2!
I easily accepted that I was uranistic (It’s a good word. Google it.); however, over the years I continued with therapy, as I was still shy, plus I was struggling with self-confidence and self-esteem issues, like not appreciating my size 27 waist until it was too late. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone? I knew that if for some reason at the zoo I got locked in a cage with gorillas or hyenas or Mennonites, I could escape by sliding through the bars, but that was the only advantage I saw to being so thin, and the odds of ending up in that situation were six to one (two to one for the Mennonites), so I wasn’t grateful for my physique and would deal with it by overindulging on ice cream and cookies and Charleston Chews, which I could do as I had a fast metabolism. Still, I needed to attack the actual issues, so therapy.
I’ll get to therapist #3 in a bit. Therapists #4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 all presented the same rule to me at our first session: “If you see me in public, don’t acknowledge me.” Therapist #2 didn’t have to tell me that, as he would never be where one would see sexual deviants, like Greenwich Village. Therapists #4, 5, 6, and 7 also assigned me the same homework: “This week say hi to somebody you don’t know.”
Two things: telling me the way to not be shy is to not be shy is not helpful, Einstein. The way to make a million dollars is to make a million dollars. The way to San José is the way to San José. Also, this is what I hear: “Talk to people who don’t know you, because people who do know you, like me, would prefer nobody in a public setting see me associate with you.” I know that sounds paranoid, cynical and just plain cuckoo for cocoa puffs. I have a theory: Therapists try to make you think you’re crazy to keep you in therapy. That’s how they hook you. It’s like when you go to YouTube to watch a video clip of Charo on The Ed Sullivan Show performing “La Cucaracha” and YouTube then recommends you watch Charo on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon and then her interview with Larry King and you watch both of those and soon enough you’re watching a clip of her appearance on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour singing “I like to be in America” as part of a medley that includes Greg Brady singing “Philadelphia Freedom” with The Hudson Brothers and Marcia Marcia Marcia Brady doing “California Dreaming” and Alice The Maid joining Rip Taylor, who on this series played Alice’s love interest (that’s 1977 for ya), to sing a song I never heard before about Dallas and the next thing you know it’s 11 PM and you haven’t even gotten dressed yet or had breakfast or walked the dogs and you realize you have issues that need to be addressed.
The idea that once a therapist meets me they don’t want to associate with me in public reminds me of that time in the 90s (post therapist #2) when I answered a personal ad from the back of Homo Xtra magazine. The guy responded, we exchanged a couple of messages and then decided to meet, not realizing that we already knew each other. It was Jared, who worked down the hall from me at Sony Music. When Jared arrived at our appointed meeting spot and saw that I, his co-worker, was his blind date, he kept on walking as if he didn’t see me. The next day at work he gave his two weeks’ notice. As my friend Martin kindly pointed out, “Oof! He’d rather be unemployed and living on the street than go on a date with you.” Martin would make a great therapist. I reckon Jared was embarrassed about an exchange we had before our non-date. He asked me what I liked and I said “music, documentaries and ice cream sundaes. You?”
“I like to ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬.” The only thing our answers had in common was the possible involvement of whipped cream.
I have another gripe about therapists. They won’t give advice.
Let’s say you’re at a restaurant. “Waitperson, I can’t decide between ordering the Cobb Salad or the steamed mussels. Which would you recommend?”
“Well, they’re both delicious, but the steamed mussels is the way to go.”
“Great! Steamed mussels it is. I’ll happily pay for that and tip you 25%.”
Let’s say you’re in your new home. “Interior designer, should we paint the walls ecru or salmon?”
“Each has their place, but you can make the room appear more elegant if you go with ecru.”
“Great! Ecru it is. I’ll happily pay your fee.”
Let’s say you’re at your therapist. “Therapist, I enjoy spending time with my friend Mateo, but he’s blown me off three times in the last month, which is so inconsiderate. Should I continue to make plans with him or write him off?”
“What do you think?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“What do you think?”
“I think that at a fee of $175 per five-sixths-of-an-hour, you should tell me what to do about Mateo. This isn’t The Hollywood Squares. There are no wrong answers. Whatever you say, I’ll agree.”
One time I had a therapist who gave me advice. Terrible advice, on a par with “If you see lightning, quickly stand under a tree” or “You should take a break from work and go to the theater, Mr. Lincoln.” I started seeing Dr. Zinfandel because I was feeling lonely and unfulfilled. I chose him because, like me, he was in his forties and gay.
During my fourth session with him I told him that a few days prior I was assaulted at Starbucks. Before you gasp, reader, let me tell you it was not a venti assault, not a grande assault. At best a tall assault. I was at the Starbucks around the corner from the building where I was living. Having picked up my order, I was at the table where they have the napkins and stirrers and artificial sweeteners. A neighbor who was never friendly towards me (not that ill-natured RuPaul, who lived on the floor below mine, but a nameless nasty neighbor who lived on the first floor when he came out from under the bridge) came up behind me, pushed me into the table, and then kept walking and left the shop. I told you it wasn’t the assaultiest assault. He didn’t throw hot coffee in my face. He didn’t drop a napkin dispenser on my foot. He didn’t jab stirrers into my eyeballs. I wasn’t injured, but still, it was an unprovoked shove. Did Dr. Zinfandel suggest I file a police report or seek a restraining order? No. Did he suggest I report the incident to our building’s Home Owners Association? No. Here is what he said: “You should apologize to this man because clearly you did something to provoke his action. People don’t push other people into tables for no reason.” Mr. Lincoln, apologize to Mr. Booth. Clearly you did something that bothered him. Mr. Lincoln? Hello, Mr. Lincoln – I’m talking to you. Don’t just lay there bleeding. Say you’re sorry.
Maybe in his line of business as a psychotherapist he doesn’t come in contact with irrational people, but I work in the music business, where everybody is as crazy as a soup sandwich. That’d been enough to drive me to therapy!
I told Dr. Z I would not apologize to my assaulter, to which he responded “Then I can’t help you. This is our final session together.” Oof! We’re not even dating and he’s breaking up with me. The lesson he conveyed to me was the reason I’m alone is that I don’t apologize to people I don’t know for existing. Great insight! I’ll happily pay your fee! It’s like taking your car to a mechanic because the rear right tire is low on air and the mechanic bangs a spike into the tire so it’s completely flat and then says “That’ll be $175. We’re done here.” And yes, I bring my car to a mechanic when a tire is low on air. If that’s gay then color me cerise.
Postscript: About six or seven years later I was at the weekly meeting of West Hollywood Toastmasters. Toastmasters is designed to help folks with public speaking. Polls show public speaking is people’s number one fear, ahead of flying, heights, and the zombie apocalypse. My biggest fears are going to parties, confined spaces, and being mauled to death by a raccoon the size of a small child. Shy me enjoys public speaking. Our club alternates hosts, and that week it was my turn to run the meeting and choose a theme. I chose the theme of Elvis Presley. Like The King, I energized the crowd. I was animated. I swiveled my hips. I told fun trivia (true fact – Elvis was a distant relative of non-apologist Abraham Lincoln.). I explained why “Jailhouse Rock” is the gayest #1 song in history. (Check out the third verse: “Number 47 said to number three, ‘You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see. I sure would be delighted with your company. Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me. Let’s rock.’” Girl! Sing that in Florida and their Nazi governor will see that you end up doing the jailhouse rock.) As for me, I rocked that room. Oozing with confidence, you would never recognize me from how I’ve been describing myself as shy.
You know who didn’t recognize oozing-with-confidence Glenn? That’s right. Dr. Admit-You’re-At-Fault-When-You-Get-An-Assault. He was visiting that night from a different Toastmasters club. His role was to run the Table Topics part of the meeting where we work on extemporaneous speaking by giving a one to two-minute speech in response to a question we hadn’t heard beforehand. Dr. Tell-The-One-Who-Attacks-You-Deserve-Forty-Whacks asked the first question and, in this room where 40 people have not yet had an opportunity to speak, called on me to answer. Me, who’d been talking the entire meeting. Me, who a few years earlier was told he no longer wanted to hear me speak. It was apparent to everyone there that Dr. Know-You’re-A-Cretin-Who-Deserves-To-Be-Beaten was clearly taken with the meeting’s self-assured sexy af host. I was having an “In the Air Tonight” moment, where someone who could have rescued me from drowning in despair years earlier but didn’t was now in my audience not recognizing me.
Later that night I received a note via Facebook Messenger from – you guessed it – Dr. Ask-For-Forgiveness-‘Cause-… (You, the reader, take a shot at finishing that nickname.). He wrote “Glenn – I was so delighted to meet you this evening. Would you like to go out for a cup of coffee with me sometime?” I wrote back “Sorry, I no longer drink coffee due to a bad experience I had at a Starbucks. Perhaps you heard about it.” Okay, I didn’t actually write that. I didn’t reply to him. He sent me a friend request. Sorry. I can’t help you with that. And should you ever run into me in public, act like we never met.
A few weeks after I got dumped by Dr. Say-Yes-To-A-Shove-Or-You-Gets-No-Love I started seeing Dr. Jabir at his home in Studio City. The fifty-something (?) heterosexual (?) met me at his front door, his first words being “Follow me to my shed out back.” To some that might sound scary, but I think it takes confidence to say that to a stranger, and confidence is what I was seeking to find in myself, so I followed him to a grey, metal structure in his backyard. At times therapy is supposed to be uncomfortable, and what’s more uncomfortable that sitting in a metal shed under the hot Los Angeles sun? Nothing, aside from being mauled by a raccoon the size of a small child. The storage shed had a desk and a chair and gardening equipment, old bicycles, a Pilates table, boxes of books, and a baby crib. I went to Dr. Jabir to pick up where I left off with the last guy – I’m lonely and I’m not living up to my full potential. Halfway through our second session he pointed to the Pilates table and said to me “Lay down.” (I think it’s “lie down.”) Once I was supine he jabbed his right index finger into the center of my chest. Then he jabbed a little to the left. He jabbed to the right. He jabbed again and again, like Helen Keller trying to use a pencil sharpener.
“What do you feel?,” he asked.
“I feel you poking me.”
Jab! Jab! Maybe following this stranger to his shed out back wasn’t a good idea. Jab! Jab! “What do you feel now?”
“I still feel you poking me.”
“I can’t help you. This is our last session.”
Oof! He’s breaking up with me, too. That’s the last time I let a heterosexual man poke me. I wanted to feel I was getting the most out of life. Clearly he wasn’t helping with that, so I’m grateful I got away from him when I did. I felt sorry for the Pilates table. “I have springs and pulleys and a slidable seat and this shmuck just uses me as a couch! You have to bust me out of here! I have so much more to offer!” I hear that, Pilates table. Loud and clear.
There was one therapist who kept trying to hug me. Excuse me, your job does not entail physical contact. You’re not a salesman at Bloomingdale’s. A physical therapist can touch me. A massage therapist can touch me. A therapist who resembles Kellan Lutz can touch me all he wants. You, sir, are no Kellan Lutz. He went to hug me hello. He went to hug me goodbye. He went to hug me when I made a discovery about myself. The only discovery about myself I made was that I have issues with physical intimacy. That he reeked of cigarettes was not helping him. I wouldn’t even let Kellan Lutz touch me if he reeked of cigarettes. Oh, yes I would. I’m not made of stone.
Just before the poker, the smoker and that other joker, there was Dr. Benjy, my first therapist in L.A. and my first gay therapist, with whom I’d meet every Monday evening at 7. I went with a gay therapist because my focus that time around was meeting men, and I figured a man who, like me, was sodomatical (It’s a good word. Google it.) would be able to offer better tips than “Say hello.” Say hello! And what if I don’t? Conversion therapy?
Dr. Benjy recommended books to me – books about overcoming shyness, books about strengthening self-esteem, books about building relationships – passages from which he would read at our sessions. I’m a big fan of self-improvement books. I buy lots of them, as I need lots of improvement, but here’s something Dr. Benjy might not have known about me: I can read. I was in my forties when I started seeing him. I’d been reading for at least 15 years. A therapist who resembles Kellan Lutz can read to me all he wants. You, sir, are no Kellan Lutz. Every week he’d crack open another book, and every time I’d remind him that reading comes so naturally to me I could do it with my eyes closed.
That was another problem I had with Dr. Benjy. He seldom remembered anything I told him previously. It was as if my therapist was the main character of the movie Memento, but he failed to tattoo on himself “Glenn is shy” or “Glenn knows how to read.” I’d see him writing on his pad during our sessions. I’m convinced what he wrote was:
At the end of our sixth session I told him that I won’t be coming back, as I felt like I wasn’t being heard. I’m about to tell you what his response was, and you’re going to think I’m making a joke, a lame joke at that, but this is what he said: “We’re out of time for this week. Can we talk about that next Monday?” Sure! I’ll talk to my friend martin about how happy I am to have my Monday nights back to myself, and you talk about it with the cashier at Trader Joe’s. Lord, do they love to talk!
I mentioned earlier that I did have a good therapist. Dr. Bristol, my third therapist, the one just before Dr. Benjy. Dr. Bristol, who I’m going to say was around my father’s age, but what do I know?, listened to me. He talked to me. He asked the right questions. He made me feel like I was out of my mind. Not completely out of my mind, but believe me – it’s refreshing to find the person helping you with your issues seems less screwed up than you. He offered advice about my shyness: “Why not join a writers group or class where you’ll meet others who share your interest?” To address the feeling I had that I had gone as far as I was going to go in life and that I had plateaued, he helped me redo my resume, which almost immediately helped me land a job at Jive Records, where I licensed the music of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake and
R. Kelly. That’s an effective therapist, people! (Dr. Bristol. Not R. Kelly.)
I saw Dr. Bristol when I was in my thirties and living in New York. In L.A. my best therapist came 20 years later. Dr. Raymond worked out of the LGBT Center. He was a G, younger than me (I’m willing to wager), and listened and responded to me talk about my loneliness, my feeling that it was too late in life to do anything about that loneliness, my avoidance of social gatherings as interacting with people I don’t know well made me uncomfortable, and my being let down by people I trusted taking advantage of my good nature, such as the CEO of a company that was a client of mine who stiffed me out of tens of thousands of dollars, which led me to a mistrust of people in general. No longer would I follow a stranger out back to their shed.
Dr. Raymond diagnosed my anxiety, he recommended great books (that he didn’t read to me), he advocated mindfulness and living in the moment instead of guessing what negative things may befall me in the future, he got me to focus on the things in life for which I was grateful, and he presented me with a mantra to repeat in my head when I’m feeling overwhelmed and distracted by negative thoughts. Unfortunately, when my friend Martin was going through a rough patch, I gave him my mantra to use and he never gave it back.
Due to high demand, the LGBT Center provides only short-term care. You can see one of their therapists for up to 12 weeks. Dr. Raymond told me the corollary of the “Don’t say hi when you see me in public” rule, which was that “once our sessions are over, you may never contact me again,” and so we said our goodbyes in April 2019. Though our time together was only three months, I left his care feeling I had my anxiety under control. That’s an effective therapist, people! I have my health. I have my Toastmasters club. I meet with my writers group. Nothing bad is happening right now.
Then came 2020.
Maintaining control over my anxiety in 2020 is like Clarence the cow riding a motorcycle to Venus. Not happening for a variety of reasons, like the fact that Clarence’s motorcycle is in the shop as its tires need air. Gay cow.
2021 was the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to 2020’s Raiders of the Lost Ark – not as powerful as the original but a worthy successor in many respects. It was in January 2021, pre-COVID-19 vaccination, that I got called for jury duty. In person jury duty. While L.A. had a mask mandate, it wasn’t enforced, and lots of people wouldn’t wear their masks indoors, because America means freedom and freedom means the right to kill yourself and take everyone down with you, plus, as a non-scientist pointed out in a video on YouTube, masks don’t stop the spread of the coronavirus. I didn’t watch that video, as it didn’t feature Ann B. Davis singing “Sweet Home Alabama.” (Can you imagine anything as awesome?)
I left Dr. Raymond a voice mail asking him if he’d write a letter to the court letting them know I suffer from acute anxiety and recommending I be excused from serving jury duty until the pandemic has subsided. I didn’t hear back. I followed up by email, and while I got the receipt indicating the email had been opened, no reply was received. I get the not keeping in contact rule, but could he not just write this letter? It would have taken less than a minute. “Dear Judge Judy, You do NOT want this bundle of worry, angst and fear in your courtroom right now. Believe me! Sincerely, Dr. Raymond, Mental Health Practitioner.” Could he not turn over my request to his superior at the LGBT Center to handle? “Dear Judge Judy, Excuse Glenn from jury duty. Anxiety is a bitch. Sincerely, Dr. Raymond’s Boss.” I felt so betrayed and more alone than I did before I started seeing him. My anxiety, on a scale of 1 to 10, was at 80 billion. (For the record, on the day I was due to report for service, I called in and was told the court didn’t need me, so I was excused. Still, though.)
The feelings of anxiety, loneliness, people in whom I had trust failing me, and my best days being way behind me, exacerbated by the pandemic, had me feeling the lowest I had ever felt. I needed help. Given my history with therapists, I was determined to find the right one and not settle. I created a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel that I cleverly titled “THERAPISTS,” and then spent several weeks populating it. I entered the names of all of the therapists listed on the website of trade magazine Psychology Today. I then looked at all of the therapists covered by my insurance plan. Do they specialize in treating anxiety and depression? Do they focus on self-confidence? Relationship building? Coping skills? Do they have experience with the LGBT and Q populations? Do they practice different types of treatments, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which is what Dr. Raymond used with me? Does their bio speak to what I’m looking for or is it generic? Is their website riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, like the doctor whose landing page reads “Do not surrender to anxitey.” If you can’t spell it, you can’t dispel it. Are they a follower of QANON? This last one wasn’t a column on my spreadsheet until I read the patient reviews of one doctor. I didn’t think a person who believed that the late John F. Kennedy Jr. would be this country’s next Vice President would be the best person to help me with my mental health, so out of the running they went. I finally decided to go with Dr. Triceratops for on-line sessions. Gay, around my age, experience with patients dealing with anxiety, knowledge in multiple therapy disciplines, a well-written bio with no references to political conspiracy theories, I figured he was the one. After my first virtual meeting with him, I was all “Hey hey, what do you say? Place your vote for JFK!”
At that first meeting, in relation to wanting to exercise again after not doing so throughout the pandemic, I used the expression “get back on that horse.” Dr. Triceratops used that phrase to make an off color joke, the kind of juvenile humor you’d expect from a second grader or Bill Maher.
Worse than his puerile humor was that he was the polar opposite of my first therapist, in that even though I was the patient, I learned more about him than he did about me. He didn’t sleep around in the 80s. He has another home in Miami. He did 100 push-ups every day before the COVID-19 outbreak. He is a big Shirley Bassey fan. How Shirley Bassey entered the conversation I do not recall, though I can assure you I’m not the one who brought her up. I didn’t say “As a kid at summer camp the other kids would make fun of me and throw rocks at me, but who cares about that? How ‘bout the theme from Goldfinger, eh? Iconic!” I didn’t say “My parents found my letters from camp detailing the bullying funny and looked forward to reading what tortures my bunkmates would next inflict on me. Ah, but who cares about that? ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ is a bop. Am I right?” I didn’t say to him “I’m incredibly lonely. I have difficulty making friends. I haven’t gone on a date in years. I spend the holidays alone. I’ll probably die alone and nobody will notice until a few weeks later when my neighbors complain about the stench coming from my apartment. I have no people in my life, but I have Shirley Bassey’s version of P!nk’s ‘Get the Party Started.’ When she laughs singing the line about kissing her ass? Good times! Who needs love, companionship, and a timely discovery of their rotting corpse?”
“I hear everything you’re saying, Glenn, and I find it very disturbing, very distressing, and rather alarming that you didn’t mention Dame Shirley’s rendition of “Big Spender” from the musical Sweet Charity. It’s the definitive version,” I imagine him saying.
Dr. Triceratops took that therapist-not-providing-answers thing to a whole new level. When I brought up my abandonment issues, telling him that someone I considered a close friend broke off communication with me for no reason, he responded “I don’t know why. I wasn’t there.” Of course you weren’t there! Why would I believe you’re at all places at all times? I don’t think you’re God. I don’t even think God is God. “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.” He’d make an outstanding history teacher. Hey, teacher, what started the Spanish-American War? “I don’t know. I wasn’t there.” Anyway…
Me: “It’s something that keeps repeating in my life. Many who I thought were friends have cut me out.”
Dr. Triceratops: “I don’t like to dwell on the past.” And the winner of the History Teacher Of The Year Award is…Professor Triceratops! “What else do you want to talk about?”
Me: “I think there’s a lot to unpack with the abandonment.”
Dr. Triceratops: “Let’s change the subject. How are you feeling today?”
Me: “I feel alone. I feel neglected. I feel unloved. I feel misunderstood. I feel disconnected. I feel overwhelmed. I feel invisible. I feel isolated. I feel I’m failing at life. I feel I operate well below my potential. I feel I don’t have a support system. I seldom feel I belong. I usually feel like an outsider. I fear I will spend the rest of my days alone. I’m afraid to get close to people as I’m sure they will hurt me. I’m constantly taken advantage of. I’m very self-conscious and uncomfortable in social situations. I often bite my tongue and don’t express disagreement out of a fear of being rejected, I avoid confrontations at all costs. I put other people’s needs and feelings ahead of my own. I have perfectionist tendencies. I become frustrated easily. I’m distraught over the state of this country and the state of the world. I’m shy. I’m stressed. I’m anxious. I’m floundering. I’m languishing. I’m unfulfilled. I wish I was in better shape. I feel I’m not being heard.”
He was quiet for a moment. Then: “I don’t know why you feel these things. You’re an intelligent person and not unattractive for a man your age.”
Me: “I don’t know why I feel these things either. Do you think I should see someone about this? A mental health professional? My bad – you’re not allowed to answer my questions.”
I tried. A lot. But I’ve come to the conclusion that therapists are a messed-up people. They need professional help. These are not people with whom I can share my issues and who will, in return, commiserate and offer advice. Therapists don’t do that. You know who does that? Joni Mitchell.
Joni Mitchell – a musician, an artist, an icon, an influencer (in the classic sense, not in the show your ya-ya’s on Instagram way), getter of me, and, as rapper Q-Tip famously pointed out, “Joni Mitchell never lies.” Her 1974 album Court and Spark is the story of my life. I’m compelled to slap a photo of myself on it and pass it off as my autobiography, but that would lead to a court date and though I’m vaxxed and boostered, I’m not yet comfortable being inside a courthouse.
The obvious starting point is “Help Me,” a perfect title for my autobiography (titles aren’t copyrightable). “Help Me” was Joni’s only top ten single as a performer, which is as crazy as a mental health professional poking me in the stomach and asking what I feel. When I was a kid, I thought Joni was singing about dancing with a lady with a hole in her stomach, clearly another patient of that therapist who worked out of his shed. “Help Me” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. It lost to “I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton-John, my pre-sexual deviation crush.
“Free Man in Paris,” the album’s other top 40 single, which features David Crosby and Graham Nash on backing vocals, is ostensibly about David Geffen, then Joni’s agent and record label head, but it’s also about me, as David Geffen and I have a lot in common. He’s gay. I’m gay. He’s a multi-billionaire. I’m gay. Geffen, not openly gay at the time of this record’s release, didn’t want Mitchell to include this song on the album, lest any listener hear it and figure out his secret. That would be hard to do, for the song’s lyrics do not include the words David, Geffen, or gay. Sure enough, at the time the song hit, everyone went on believing that Geffen was dating Cher. (At that time, Liza Minnelli was still married to Peter Allen, who co-wrote Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You” and also was a sexual deviant.) That was 1974 for ya. Just a few months before Court and Spark’s release the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, and since then gay people in the US have lived openly and free from discrimination. Apparently the Vaguely French Psychiatric Association didn’t follow suit. Despite this, per Joni, in Paris this man could be free from the stress of the everyday life he created for himself and perhaps meet a “very good friend” to take away the loneliness. Stressed and lonely? A perfect title for my autobiography. Paris is often called “The City of Love,” and if I were just a few years older in 1974, I would have vacationed there. Me and Olivia with Cher and David and Liza and Peter and Alice and Rip. Vive le romantisme!
“Car on a Hill” is about Joni being stood up for a date by a man she met thru an ad in Homo Xtra magazine. She doesn’t say that explicitly, nor does she mention the whipped cream fetish, but she sings she’s “waiting for my sugar to show,” so draw your own conclusions. I know I did.
Then there’s “Down To You,” which won Joni the Grammy Award for Best Arrangement Accompanying A Vocal. “Old friends seem indifferent…old bonds have broken down.” That’s what I said to Dr. Triceratops, though in language not as good. He said “Don’t dwell on the past,” which Dr. Mitchell says as well, though she expresses it with greater style: “You can crawl. You can fly, too.” Non-existentonedammit, I’m choosing to fly! Get that motorcycle out of the shop, Clarence. We’re going to Venus! That’s the advice I need to hear. Fly! Order the steamed mussels! Go with ecru! (By the way, if Joni says “go with ecru,” go with ecru, for not only is Joni a songwriter, singer, musician, cloaked influencer, and psychotherapist, she’s also a painter whose work appears on the Court and Spark album cover.) She’s someone who has lived up to her potential in so many areas, and for that Joni Mitchell will never be confused for a Pilates table in a metal shed in Studio City. That and the lack of springs and pulleys hanging off her.
“Raised on Robbery” opens with multi-tracked voices of Joni sounding like The Andrews Sisters, though Patti, Maxene and the other one never sang about a hooker trying to pick up a man at a hotel bar, though “Rum and Coca Cola” came close. Assisted by Dr. John and Robbie Robertson, Joni’s lady of the evening – wait, the prostitute wasn’t assisted by those two great musicians, Joni was. You know, prostitutes and therapists are very similar – you pay them to spend an hour with you, and for that time they pretend to be into you and care (so I hear). What made Joni write a song about a hooker? I don’t know. I wasn’t there.
The song’s narrator has a great come-on: “I’m a pretty good cook. I’m sitting on my groceries / Come up to my kitchen, I’ll show you my best recipe,” a pick-up line on a par with “You’re the cutest jailbird I ever did see.” I admire her lack of trepidation in approaching a stranger. I also appreciate her offering this guy a meal, while I don’t even get offered a goddamned pretzel rod.
The prospective client of Joni’s character walks away from her, as perhaps I should have done sooner with the mental health hookers in my life.
Court and Spark culminates with “Twisted,” which would make a perfect title for my autobiography. (“Raised On Robbery” would be a great title for the autobiographies of most of my therapists.) On this song, the album’s sole cover, Mitchell sings “My analyst told me that I was right out of my head” – Oh, girl, talk to me! – “but I said ‘Dear doctor, I think that it’s you instead.'” I hear that! Joni Mitchell never lies.
About the song’s narrator, guest vocalists Cheech & Chong say “That girl is crazy, boop-shooby, hair flip city.” If I had a dime for every time I’ve been called hair flip city, I’d – “WAIT! Did you write ‘guest vocalists Cheech & Chong?’” Yes, I did. How twisted is that!
I’ve spent the last few paragraphs talking about how the album’s lyrics are about me. I must sound like a raving egomaniac. Let’s talk about something that’s not about me at all – the music itself. On the surface, it’s often light and breezy, at opposites with its subject matter, which reveal a tension and a darkness, sometimes with humor. Oh, man, I’m talking about myself again. How could I ever have struggled with low self-esteem when the great Joni Mitchell made an album about me? An album that received a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. (It lost to Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale, my #91 album.) An album that at the time of its release it became Mitchell’s best-selling record. An album that earned Joni a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. It lost to Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You,” as the Grammy voting committee was made up of ten-year-old future omi-palones. (It’s a good word. Google it.) What else can I say? You’re very welcome, Joni.
As for me, at this moment I’m managing. I’m not thriving, though most of the time I’m not struggling and seldom, compared to a few months ago, do I feel distressed. As Dr. Raymond suggested, I focus on being present and not ruminating on slights of the past or what may or may not happen in the future. I have a new mantra that I’m not going to share with you lest you take it and not return it, but I’ll tell you its acronym is STFU and I say it to those voices in my head whenever they tell me I’m unloved or my future looks bleak or when they start singing “In the Air Tonight.” No Shirley Basseys, they. I’m in a writers group that meets virtually twice a month. I got together with a few former co-workers for brunch earlier this month and that lifted my spirits immensely. I’ve given up on being courted and sparked at this point in my life, though anything is possible. I’m sure I’ll look for a therapist again someday, but until that day, I’ll dive into my self-help books. I am grateful to you for reading (and, if you’re so inclined, sharing) this post. I’ll close with some advice, as I’m not a therapist so I’m allowed to do so: should someone in your life be feeling boop shooby, don‘t cut them out. Share with them your pretzel rods.
Apple Music: https://embed.music.apple.com/us/album/court-and-spark/1492263239
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