Sex Kills

Album: Turbulent Indigo (1994)
Play Video


  • Joni Mitchell performs this song solo accompanying herself on the acoustic guitar. In spite of its title this is not a song about sex!

    In an interview with Tracey Macleod of BBC Television broadcast on The Late Show, December 6, 1994, she was asked to describe "Sex Kills" which Macleod said was the cornerstone of her new album. The singer-songwriter replied: "It was written at the time of the Los Angeles riots. I pulled up behind a car which had a license plate JUST ICE which was very provocative to me. I asked a lot of people what justice was - nobody seemed to know. This is a song about America and in particular Los Angeles at this particular time."

    The Los Angeles riots in question were sparked by the April 1992 acquittal of four uniformed thugs who had been filmed beating the motorist Rodney King, but Mitchell's song goes far beyond this one injustice to all manner of social injustice, and the crass consumerism of American and more generally Western society that has resulted in the despoliation of the environment, which if not checked will end up killing us all:

    And the gas leaks
    And the oil spills
    And sex sells everything
    And sex kills
  • The line, "And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs, know the balance is undone" is probably a reference to the old Cree proverb: "Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize we cannot eat money."

    Or if not that particular proverb then certainly something similar.
  • Songs of this nature are often loud, fast and angry, but by the time of the LA riots, Joni Mitchell was nearly fifty years old, too old to be an angry young [wo]man. Sadly, this fine song raises many questions but answers none, which probably indicates that in the long run if not sooner, Mankind is doomed. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 3

Comments: 1

  • Chris from IndianaIn fact, Joni prefaced the song during her "Painting with Words and Music" concert in 1998, by stating simply that the song was about "Sex and violence in LA". Certainly, the lyrics are exploring a lot!
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Five Rockers Who Rolled With The Devil

Five Rockers Who Rolled With The DevilSong Writing

Just how much did these monsters of rock dabble in the occult?

Donnie Iris (Ah! Leah!, The Rapper)

Donnie Iris (Ah! Leah!, The Rapper)Songwriter Interviews

Before "Rap" was a form of music, it was something guys did to pick up girls in nightclubs. Donnie talks about "The Rapper" and reveals the identity of Leah.

Gentle Giant

Gentle GiantSongwriter Interviews

If counterpoint and polyrhythms are your thing, you might love these guys. Even by Progressive Rock standards, they were one of the most intricate bands of the '70s. Then their lead singer gave us Bon Jovi.

Subversive Songs Used To Sell

Subversive Songs Used To SellSong Writing

Songs about drugs, revolution and greed that have been used in commercials for sneakers, jeans, fast food, cruises and cars.

Guy Clark

Guy ClarkSongwriter Interviews

Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett are just a few of the artists who have looked to Clark for insightful, intelligent songs.

Phil Hurtt ("I'll Be Around")

Phil Hurtt ("I'll Be Around")Songwriter Interviews

Phil was a songwriter, producer and voice behind many Philadelphia soul classics. When disco hit, he got an interesting project: The Village People.