Recently, watching the Band back Joni Mitchell on “Coyote” (the video I put up here has been blocked) in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Waltz, I wondered about the link between cocaine and the fashionably emaciated look in the 1970s. Never mind.
Mitchell is beyond svelte, but still young enough to make cadaverous rhyme with glamorous. Robbie Robertson looks like you could knock him over with a guitar pick. He must have been bucking to make the junior welterweight division of great rock and roll guitarists. Coyote, indeed.
But there is nothing slight about the music. Fans of the Band know they were terrific players with impressive stylistic range, but it’s still surprising to hear them do justice to Mitchell’s rhythmically complex piece. It’s folk jazz, fusion-y but spare, and somehow soulful.
Mitchell was labeled a folkie early on but she turned out to be a great jazz singer. “Coyote” is also a testament to her brilliance as a lyricist. It reads like it was written for the screen and is about a certain sort of predatory male who meets his match when he hooks up with a certain woman of the road.
Memorable lyric: Coyote’s in the coffee shop/ He’s staring a hole in his scrambled eggs/ He picks up my scent on his fingers/ While he’s watching the waitress’s legs.
Footnote: I think you can still view “Coyote” on YouTube. The live version with the Band is the best of the videos.