A new biography of the musical icon, telling the story of how the blond girl with the guitar became a superstar of folk music in the 1960s, a key figure in the Laurel Canyon music scene of the 1970s, and the songwriter who spoke resonantly to, and for, audiences across the country.
In the best full-length treatment of Mitchell yet published, Yaffe follows her from her childhood in postwar Saskatchewan all the way up to a Chick Corea concert last year, her first public appearance after suffering an aneurysm in 2015. Yaffe was granted extraordinary access to the famously standoffish Mitchell, as well as to many of her closest friends and collaborators, including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Joan Baez, David Crosby, Judy Collins, and the late Leonard Cohen. Making the most of his proximity, he pulls off the feat that has eluded so many of his predecessors: He forges an intimacy with Mitchell on her own, uncompromising terms by truly listening to her, as closely and as generously as she’s always deserved ... Yaffe’s greatest accomplishment in Reckless Daughter, stuffed though it is with insightful reporting, is to shed light not just on the artist but also on the art. Yaffe brings a sophisticated and exceptionally careful ear to music that demands nothing less.
Yaffe wants to 'understand the mind' that wrote Mitchell’s songs. He creates his portrait using biographical information and extensive quotations from interviews that Mitchell has given to him and others...Though this format allows us to see multiple sides of Mitchell, it also tests our opinion of her as an artist and as a person. Regardless if one likes or dislikes her, no one can dispute that courage and vulnerability have been the motivating forces in both her life and art ... Yaffee seldom comments on Mitchell’s abrasiveness, but he’s quick to point out the rampant sexism in the music industry that may have prompted it, most notably when Rolling Stone named Mitchell the 'Queen of El Lay.' Where Yaffe should intervene is when Mitchell makes outlandish and self-serving statements about music ... Yaffe solidly traces the glory and gloom of a musical career that expanded our ears and hearts...To his credit, Yaffe treats every album, even the nonsellers of the 1980s — what Mitchell called 'The Lost Years' — with respect and equanimity, nor does he shy away from detailing her miscalculations.
Reckless Daughter is thoroughly researched, with original interviews with Mitchell as well as friends and collaborators across her life span. But its flaws in craft, tone, and focus leave it short of definitive, and a little maddening to read ... The book is at its best on Roberta Joan Anderson’s childhood in repressive, rural, postwar Saskatchewan, and her life-altering experience of being bedridden by polio and quarantined for long, lonely months at age ten ... Reckless Daughter often loops and shuffles chronology in confusing ways, failing to set up important anecdotes or figures. Meanwhile, it belabors its motifs and themes, in ways that are either pompous or disorganized ... He also buys in too much to Mitchell’s own rearview demonizations of her relationships, instead of maintaining a broader perspective on the ways she repeatedly felt compelled, as an extraordinary woman caught in a sexist society, to flee rather than limit herself for any man ... Nevertheless, Reckless Daughter does encompass the sweep of Mitchell’s complicated life. It left me with a fuller sense of her creative process and her relationships with her collaborators. For now it’s the strongest account we have.