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