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September 6, 2013

It is being speculated that the musical preferences of our youth stay with us forever.  I know that holds true for me.   I am a child of the sixties, and regard Joni Mitchell as the most talented and versatile singer/songwriter then or since, with the exception of Bob Dylan.  Certainly Joni’s cigarette-deepened alto is musically superior to (but not necessarily more engaging than) Bob’s unmistakable ragged growl.  Part of my attraction to these remarkable artists is that they view the world through their own eyes, something with which I believe I can identify.


I find that sometimes particular songs go unnoticed until the time is right.  For me that is true of If, Joni’s wonderfully melodic tribute to the poem of the same title by Rudyard Kipling.  I arrived at it in rather convoluted fashion.  I was enjoying an episode of Silk, BBC’s absolutely top-drawer legal drama, when one of the characters quoted a line from the poem.  That prompted me to pause the video and search it out to refresh my memory of the words.   When I Googled it, I noticed the Joni Mitchell connection and pulled the album up from my music library.


If appears on Joni’s 2007 album Shine, a sombre, jarring collection of her work, unflinchingly critical of the world.  As the final track on the album, it stands as a ray of hope, beauty emerging out of the ugly, holding out the offer of redemption.


Kipling’s poem has long held great weight for me.  A copy of it hung on my wall in my home in Armstrong.  I deeply appreciated its sage advice, made far more poignant by the story of betrayal behind it.  I won’t go into that, however.  If you are interested you can Google it.


If you have never read the poem, I trust it will have a great deal to say to you.  Undoubtedly it will be familiar to many; even so it may yet inspire you.  I give you Joni Mitchell’s version, not greatly altered from Kipling’s.


If you can keep your head
While all about you
People are losing theirs and blaming you
If you can trust yourself
When everybody doubts you
And make allowance for their doubting too.

If you can wait
And not get tired of waiting
And when lied about
Stand tall
Don’t deal in lies
And when hated
Don’t give in to hating back
Don’t need to look so good
Don’t need to talk too wise.

If you can dream
And not make dreams your master
If you can think
And not make intellect your game
If you can meet
With triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same

If you can force your heart
And nerve and sinew
To serve you
After all of them are gone
And so hold on
When there is nothing in you
Nothing but the will
That’s telling you to hold on!
Hold on!

If you can bear to hear
The truth you’ve spoken
Twisted and misconstrued
By some smug fool
Or watch your life’s work
Torn apart and broken down
And still stoop to build again
With worn out tools.

If you can draw a crowd
And keep your virtue
Or walk with Kings
And keep the common touch
If neither enemies nor loving friends
Can hurt you
If everybody counts with you
But none too much.

If you can fill the journey
Of a minute
With sixty seconds worth of wonder and delight
The Earth is yours
And Everything that’s in it
But more than that
I know
You’ll be alright
You’ll be alright.

Cause you’ve got the fight
You’ve got the insight
You’ve got the fight
You’ve got the insight


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