Amelia

Album: Hejira (1976)
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Songfacts®:

  • Mitchell (from a 1996 interview with the Los Angeles Times): "I wrote the album while traveling cross-country by myself and there is this restless feeling throughout it... the sweet loneliness of solitary travel. In this song, I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another, sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman and having something you must do."

    Amelia Earhart was a pioneering aviator who in 1932 became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Amelia Earhart vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Mitchell alludes to this when she sings:

    A ghost of aviation
    She was swallowed by the sky
    Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly
    Like Icarus ascending
    On beautiful foolish arms


    Icarus is a figure from Greek mythology whose father, Daedalus, crafted him a set of wings made of wax. Despite his father's warnings, Icarus flew too close to the sun and his wings melted, sending him to his death in what is now called the Icarian Sea.
  • Joni Mitchell's friend David Crosby covered this for his 2017 album Sky Trails. He told Uncut: "I've always wanted to sing that song. I love that song! What a stunning piece of work she did, the two levels of it talking about Amelia Earhart and taking about her own love life at the same time, so eloquently, with such a beautiful set of words. Her version is quite ornate. I tried to sing it very simply."
  • Joni Mitchell sings in the first verse about:

    Six jet planes
    Leaving six white vapor trails across the bleak terrain
    It was the hexagram of the heavens
    it was the strings of my guitar
    Amelia, it was just a false alarm


    She explained the lyric to Robert Hepburn for Mojo magazine in 1994. "Basically the false alarm was the end of a relationship. Two scorpios couldn't let each other go. It was done, but we couldn't let go; we belonged to each other. It was winding down and I am driving solo without a driver's license across the country. I think of Amelia I think solo flight. I can't remember how many hotel rooms later it was complete."

Comments: 6

  • Phil Regan from Leyland, Lancashire, EnglandIn my 55 years of singing and listening to contemporary folk music, I've never found a song that blended sublime poetic imagery, and hauntingly beautiful melody and performance, so completely. It is a work of genius, which is probably why its not better known - its just too good for the majority to appreciate.
  • Les from SfOne of my favorite top five songs.... the greatest lyrics, spoke so directly to me when I was younger!
  • Ret from Bristol, United KingdomLeaving aside my feelings about this song, which, while personal, I still don't really understand (the song is a little bit about death, after all)... I sat and figured out the chords to this the other day, it sounds pretty cool on the piano.
  • Peter from Newark, NyJoni has a song called 'Cactus Tree' on her first album, Song to a Seagull, and it appears again live on "Miles of Aisles". I wonder if the Cactus Tree Motel in this song is related.
  • Peter from Newark, NyThis entire album has some of the best imagery I've ever heard in lyrics. I love the line "slept on the strange pillows of my wanderlust".
  • Darrell from EugeneAmelia is also a medical term for the condition of having one or more limbs missing, thus making it a great name for the proverbial girl with no arms and no legs.
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