I came across this book in Philadelphia. I was actually looking for Karen O'Brien's "Shadows and Light", another Mitchell biography. A Mitchell fan for years, I'd finally decided I wanted to understand more. I was disappointed.
The journey is hard. The style is sub-Hello celeb adulation. It gossips. It's more preoccupied with Mitchell's search for "love" than with her search for self-fulfilment. There is an adolescent preoccupation with her latest "boyfriend".
The photographs are air-brushed soft-focus fashion shots and the captions are unrelated. They therefore make little or no contribution to the narrative. The narrative itself lacks fluidity, and sometimes reads as if a collection of paragraphs cut'n'pasted into the right chronological order but with no concern for continuity: there will be a paragraph about the making of a song, and later a reference to the same song as if we'd never heard of it before. In fact, Bego writes as if English were his second language, and treats his audience as if they have short-term memory problems - not "Taming the Tiger" but always "the album Taming the Tiger". This also manifests itself in a repetitive stream of proper nouns (irritatingly an overfamiliar use of first names - Joni, James, Jackson) almost uninterrupted by pronouns.
Bego applies some strange principles to his reporting. He writes at some length about how songs on For the Roses are about Mitchell's affair with James Taylor, then without comment or apparent embarrassment reports her as critical of those who speculated so.
Sometimes, to be fair, the background stories to the songs come close to aiding understanding the context of their composition - the chapter on Hejira is enlightening in this respect. But in others he gets it totally wrong. Let the Wind Carry Me, for example, is not simply about Mitchell's difficult relationship with her parents, as the author contends: if it is autobiographical, it shows their very different contributions to her maturation, but ultimately it is about the conflict the singer feels between her wild side and a longing for stability.
In the next chapter I looked in vain for a link between that song and Down to You, from Court and Spark. Bego assigns an autobiographical label to this song too, despite its being addressed to a second person. Like Let the Wind Carry Me, Down to You is about going out into the world looking for fun, though the fun in the later track is much more illusory. If both are indeed autobiographical then they apparently belong to different phases of Mitchell's life, but Bego is short on comment in this respect.
Also from Court and Spark, how can Car on the Hill be described as "upbeat"? It's about waiting expectantly for someone - someone who "makes friends easy" - who has still not arrived by song's end. It's a lonely song, despite the music's pace.
So, in its favour, this book is available (one star), chronologically faithful and about Joni Mitchell (one star). I also support Bego's campaign to release the unheard music from Mingus. But if you're looking for deep insights into the significance and meaning of the songs and a serious analysis of the music, this ain't the place.
On a bright note, in the middle of reading this book I finally managed to track down, in Vancouver, a copy of Ms O'Brien's biography. I'm hoping it will be more insightful than Mr Bego's.