“These are my last two records. I’m quitting after this, because the business has made itself so repugnant to me.”—Joni Mitchell, W magazine
The quote from Mitchell is interesting for a number of reasons. Arguably, at this point in her long career, it could be said that she’s done simply because she’s been at it a sufficiently long time, such that she’s fundamentally had enough. It’s about time she retired (if it can ever be said that an artist actually retires: it is one thing for someone who has been working at a conventional trade to get to the point where punching the proverbial clock is no longer a desirable way of spending one’s time, but does a writer, painter, actor, musician, etc. ever really retire? It seems unlikely. But it opens up a question about the nature of work. The artists most certainly work, there can be no question of that, but presumably what they decide to do is more an intersection of vocation and avocation than is ordinarily the case. So when do they stop?) I assume that Mitchell will continue to make music, that she will continue to perform music. But chances are, she’ll be doing it on her own terms, not those of a record company or a concert promoter. (It could be argued that Mitchell may have trouble hanging on to a recording contract and that concert promoters aren’t exactly beating down her door and thus the announced exiting from the stage.)
But there is that word repugnant. This is not a term that smacks of a pulled punch. It is a frontal assault. There are plenty of other words that one might imagine that a person nearing the end of her career might use to describe an industry that has become. . .dubious. But Mitchell puts it out there: repugnant. Sense the disgust.
What is the extent to which most of us consider the Entertainment Industry repugnant? How often do any of us actually critique it in more than a superficial way? By and large, I think, we accept more than question. When it comes to the mass merchandising of performers, we turn a blind eye to what is really going on, to the multitudinous methods used to separate us from our money. “It’s only rock and roll,” we say by way of making an excuse for our contribution to a multibillion-dollar industry. We prefer not to look at the multiplicity of layers upon layers and interlocking tentacles (cultural critics Deleuze and Guattari use a great term that applies here: rhizome) that are the corporations that make the discs, stage the concerts, produce the movies, create the TV shows. They put it out there. We take it. Perhaps we don’t smile, always, but as for criticism. . . . Well, we let it go. Which is repugnant in and of itself.