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Joni Mitchell in person Add to ...

She pauses, staring into space, and then returns with a bang. "To enjoy my music, you need depth and emotionality. Those two traits are bred out of the white, straight males who control the press."

For a woman who marches to her own suspended chords, though, Mitchell has a curious distaste for feminism. "They're Amazons, a lot of the ones that I met," she says, leaning back and placing her frosty pink, perfectly manicured toes onto the coffee table. "In some ways, I think the movement did more harm than good. I think it created an aggressive-type female with a sense of entitlement that's a bit of a monster."

On a more personal level, Mitchell is learning late in life that it isn't all that easy to coax children onto the path you want. In 1997, she reunited with her daughter, Kilauren Gibb, the baby she put up for adoption, at 21, when she was a penniless musician. "In some ways, my gift for music and writing was born out of tragedy, really, and loss," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2004. "When my daughter returned to me, the gift kind of went with it. The songwriting was almost like something I did while I was waiting for my daughter to come back."

For 10 years, Mitchell happily retreated into domestic life. "I was being a grandmother," she says, smiling brightly. "My house was dripping in pictures of my grandchildren. I spent a few years basically puttering, and then I realized: My parents are still living; they're only 30 years older than I am. I've had a very full life, but only two-thirds of it is gone. I'm a little young for retirement."

She and her daughter are currently estranged. She has lots to say about the problems they've encountered. The stories spill out, easily and ugly. Until she suddenly remembers this is an interview.

"Can you please keep the kid out of it?" she asks, trustingly. "It will only fan the flame. Let's just say it's a work in progress."

The family rift has had one silver lining: It has opened up room for creativity to rush in. "I honestly didn't think I'd ever write again," she says wistfully.

Given the dark subject matter - war, torture, "fertile farmlands buried under subdivisions" - the music for the new songs is surprisingly bright and uplifting.

If, an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling poem that's being used in the ballet, has a buoyant, hip-hop groove. Shine is a lush lullaby for the soul. "I always try to do that," she says of the dichotomy. "Even my saddest songs - The Beat of Black Wings, for instance - is set to a very happy pop melody. It's like the sugar coating on a bitter pill."

Her agent is now in L.A. shopping the new album around, but Mitchell still doesn't have much time for the music business. Other things seem more important. A self-described Buddhist-Gnostic hybrid, she was introduced to Buddhism through a mind-bending encounter with the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual master Chogyam Trungpa while performing on Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder tour. It was 1975 and she was being paid in cocaine during a brief dalliance with drugs.

The monk asked her if she believed in God. "Yes," she replied, snorting a line right in front of him. "Here's my god and here is my prayer." The monk flared his nostrils and "zapped" her into an awakened state of consciousness with rhythmic breathing. For three days, she had no sense of self.

"My mind was back in Eden, the mind before the fall. With the 'I' gone, you no longer have a divisional mind that goes 'good, bad, right, wrong.'

"I am of the 'God is within' school," Mitchell adds, explaining that she sometimes gets close to re-entering a similar state, which she now calls the dazzling darkness, while painting or playing pinball.

"I see the entire world as Eden, and every time you take an inch of it away, you must do so with respect. We've just whittled it down to nothing, so that it can no longer support us. We are a disease upon its back, and it's calling on all of its immune system to get us off."

And God doesn't mind the tobacco smoke in them thar gardens?

"Look," she says laughing. "I smoked in cars, in saunas, in all sorts of small spaces. If secondary smoke is going to kill me, I would have been dead 20 years ago."

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