Petty Wars

There’s a David Sedaris story called “Hejira.” As it begins, he tells us, "After six months spent waking at noon, getting high, and listening to the same Joni Mitchell record over and over again, I was called by my father into his den and told to get out." The record in question was, of course, “Hejira.” It also deals with leaving home, breaking off relations, migrating.  The title is an Arabic word referring to an earlier journey made by another soul who felt estranged - Mohammed's flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD.
 
In the album's title track, Joni could be speaking for all three…
 
I’m traveling in some vehicle
I’m sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
 
Or maybe it's Mikhail Baryshnikov's voice. I sometimes wonder if he had something to do with the song. He was in Canada in 1974, touring with the Kirov Ballet, when he made the big leap and requested political asylum in Toronto. "Hejira" came out two years later. I wonder if Joni thought about all the things we defect from: a country, a family, a lover. I wonder if she thought about the word ‘defect,’ how it’s a verb and a noun.
 
The opening lines are repeated to end the song, with one adjustment…
 
I’m traveling in some vehicle
I’m sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way
 

 

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