We all know a Richard. Or should I say, an artist formerly known as Richard.
A weathered has-been in his craft who now feels he wears the cloak of the sage old counsellor. He finds purpose in providing salty and unsolicited advice to the up-and coming. He’s drunk. His once handsome eyes are now forlorn and his jaded “enlightenment” thinly veils his regret. He is now that guy. “Cynical, drunk, and boring someone in some dark café.”
In true Joni fashion, the introduction of the song paints the scene and ushers the listener into a place of melodic nostalgia. It provides the backing track to the dimly lit dive where the bar maids know Richard’s drink, and when to kick him out. It is the audible landscape that prepares you for the sombre minor chords of Richard’s hum, the suspended notes of seeing beyond an old dreamer’s bullshit, and the major belief that though you might meet this same fate, for you, it will only be a phase.
I’ve met my fair share of Richards over the years and I’ve sat in chairs next to them, just as Joni did. I’ve listened as they imparted cynical and self-righteous predictions of how my life as an artist, a romantic, will play out. I’ve searched their “tomb-filled eyes” for my own reflection and have yet to see it. I’ve laughed off their caution and their rebukes of “just you wait and see.”
Years from now, will I be “hiding behind bottles in dark cafés” like Richard and other good dreamers? Maybe. But if Joni Mitchell, a goddess amongst Richards and Canadian folk royalty, says it will only be a phase, I’ll listen. After all, this song closes out one of the greatest albums of all time, placing Joni Mitchell on a pedestal as one of our lifetime’s great songwriters.
As for Richard, well, he still has that coffee percolator.