The first memory I have of hearing “River” is 1987-1988 in the backseat of my mother’s evergreen 1976 Dodge Aspen. Every Thursday, we would drive from Moose Jaw to Regina for Ukrainian dancing lessons. It was winter at the time, and the windows were caked with ice. The piano from “River” started to play while we were listening to “As It Happens” with Carole Off on CBC. When Joni sang “It’s coming on Christmas,” my mom changed the radio station, and I perked up from the back seat, asking her to change it back. She muttered that she didn’t like the sound of her voice. Being 6 or 7 at the time, I felt like Joni was singing directly to my heart. If I didn’t know any better, this was likely the moment I realized I wanted to be musical.
Fast forward to Grade 7. I made a mixtape of radio recordings of “River” and “A Case of You” that I had recorded back-to-back for one whole side of the tape. My best friend and her brother had been killed in a tragic accident in January 1994. I would sit in my room and listen to this tape and just cry, cry a lot. I was deeply connected to the clarity of Joni’s voice. The more time that went on in the environment I grew up in, the more I realized that it wasn’t her voice my folks didn’t like. It was that she was strong, cool, and independent. She was opinionated and bright. Talented and creatively brave. Joni was the kind of woman I wanted to grow up to be like, but in a family shrouded in misogyny, that’s a tough fight to arm yourself for. It took 40 years, but I finally understood how to arm myself with music. I thank Joni for showing me the ropes.