This is a lovely song from the Blue album. I am not in a situation that is analogous to that spoken of by the singer, but I find the narrative to be very compelling and heartfelt. It's a great piece of storytelling, regardless of whether it was cut from whole cloth or taken from direct experience. I listen to it frequently, and cry half of the time.
When Joni sings of the wished-for river, I wonder if she means a river that would lead her to the next adventure or the big river that takes us all away in the end. She went from adventure to adventure there for quite a while, didn't she? Different lovers, different countries, different musical associations. All of that requires a certain temperament, and a certain amount of money. That kind of freedom is not cheap. The river to adventure is denied to many of us. The other river is the one thing that we cannot avoid. (Unless, like Salvador Dali, you count “being modern.”)
I wonder, but in my heart I'm hearing it as the river to peace, to the absence of memory, to the end of suffering. The river to that great gift, the gift which is denied to no one. The silver lining to the cloud that we spend our lives in. That river.
We can wait for it, or, if things press in on us with great enough urgency, we can lace up our skates today and set off. I like to think that I can wait for it, and I try to fight a tendency to long for it.
“Oh, I wish I had a river, I could skate away on ...”
Best to listen as though it were a simple song about a lost love. Don't read too much into these things. But that's what makes great art. Everyone who looks at a great painting sees it a bit differently than others; everyone who reads a great poem understands a different lesson; everyone who listens to a great song hears a personal message. That is what elevates art to greatness.
Joni Mitchell is a gift from God, and I try to be grateful.