RAMBLIN ROUND: Joni and Cary and "Blue"

·7 min read

Jun. 27—While hundreds of songs have been written and titled after the names of people, it's a far more select group's that named for real-life individuals being celebrated — or sometimes dissed — in songs.

Some songs never directly name the person for whom the song was written or to whom it was addressed. Some of those individuals who are the subjects of the missives may be relieved. If a song says you're great, fine. But if it's headed in the other direction, maybe not so much.

Another thing about songs, while there have been quadrillions of love songs written around the world — either in the categories of "ain't love grand" or "love is breaking my heart" — there hasn't been that many "like" songs. I can only think of a few, unless one decides to throw in a few songs from the early rock 'n' roll songs of the 1950s.

Even then, there's not a proliferation of them. Think of Dion and The Belmonts' early rock anthem "A Teenager in Love." Yep, most of us are smitten at an early age.

Still, there are a few songs that celebrate really liking someone in a non-platonic relationship. Celebrations of Joni Mitchell's landmark album "Blue," marking the 50th anniversary of its release this week, has me thinking of what I consider the best: "Carey."

Already a celebrated album, even more praise is being given to "Blue" due to its new milestone. No doubt, "Blue" is a great album, but for me, trying to choose the best Joni Mitchell album is like trying to name the best Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson album, they all have so many great ones in their catalogues.

Sure, "Blue" deserves its reputation as one of the best albums, ever — but I also rate Joni's albums "Court and Spark" and "Hejira" highly. Hejira especially, has been a longtime favorite, with its song cycle and images of the open road.

Still, there's no denying the power of "Blue." While "Court and Spark" features the jazz-rock fusion band The L.A. Express and "Hejira" has jazz bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius' sending cascades of bass notes all over the album, "Blue" has minimal backing. Most songs feature Joni on piano or guitar. James Taylor also adds guitar, but the instrument most often associated with "Blue" is a dulcimer, the Appalachian instrument normally associated with mountain music.

Why a dulcimer? Well that goes back to the song "Carey" — and although I wasn't sure when I first heard the song I later learned that it is indeed about a real person named Cary Raditz, who literally entered Joni 's life with a bang!

In the early 1970s, Joni had broken off her relationship with Graham Nash and left southern California with a friend named Penelope for a jaunt to Europe and the Mediterranean. They ended up in Athens and took a ferry to the village of Matala, on the island of Crete.

Joni and her friend rented a bungalow near the beach. They soon became enthralled by the nomadic young hipsters they saw living in ancient manmade caves on cliffs overlooking the beach, many of them Americans.

Joni and Penelope walked to the beach to check out the scene when they heard an explosion. Mitchell said later she whipped her head around in time to see a red-bearded young man being blown out the door of a cafe. Joni said she told her friend "I have to meet this guy."

She learned he wasn't seriously injured in the explosion, which came after one of the cafe owners where he worked as a cook unthinkingly tried to light a cigarette after propane had been detected near a stove. Cary Raditz, like Joni, was in his early 20s, and came to Crete by way of North Carolina.

He later said they met when Joni came to the cafe with friends and helpfully tried to clean off their table after they ate. When she brought the trash to him, he flung it on the floor — he said because in the cafe, it wasn't unusual for celebrants to throw their glasses and even their plates on the floor as part of a local tradition.

The two soon began a relationship and Joni moved in with Cary, who had his own cave in the cliffs.

Joni has been romantically involved with a number of well-known musical artists, including Nash, David Crosby, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Leonard Cohen and has written songs that have been lined with most of them — but the red-headed, red-bearded American from North Carolina inspired what I still believe is the best one.

In the song, Joni sings of being unable to sleep while the wind blows in from Africa, and notes her fingernails are filthy and she has beach tar on her feet. She says she misses her clean white linen and fancy French cologne and how this place is not really her home.

But Joni remains in Matala and in the exuberant chorus, she's ready for another night on the town, or should it be night on the village?

"Oh Carey, get out your cane and I'll put some silver on," she sings. "Oh, you're a mean ole daddy, but I like you fine."

She sings about how they can go to the Mermaid Cafe ( a real place on the island) where she'll buy him a bottle of wine, where they can laugh and toast and smash their empty glasses down.

"Let's have a round for these freaks and these soldiers, a round for these friends of mine," she sings. "Let's have another round for the bright red devil, who keeps me in this tourist town."

Joni returns to the refrain of how hard it is for her to leave.

"But let's not talk of fare-thee-wells now, the night is a starry dome," she sings. "And they're playing that scratchy rock and roll beneath the Matala moon."

Eventually, she does go of course — but she first sang Cary the song she wrote for him, before traveling on to Spain, before finally returning home to California.

I used to wonder about the part about Cary getting his cane, since he was in his early 20s at the time. He later said it was part of a broken shepherd's hook he found and carried with him, finding it useful in making his way from the cliffs to the town and back. Joni said he used it because had a theatrical streak.

She also told how Cary would keep others living in the cliffs from overly-bothering her, since she was already a well-known artist at the time.

Wait ! Cary (Joni misspelled his name when she wrote "Carey") also inspired a verse in another great song from "Blue," called "California."

She sings "I met a redneck on a Grecian isle, who did the goat dance very well. He gave me back my smile, but he kept my camera to sell.

"Oh the rogue, the red, red rogue; he cooked good omelets and stews, and I might have stayed with him there, but my heart cried out for you, California."

The idyllic cave-dwelling life above the beach for the young nomads ended after Joni left when Greek police came and forced them from the caves. Cary Raditz eventually returned to the U.S. and became an investment banker.

I do know Cary and Joni would see each other again, because he said while he keep her camera as alluded to in "California," he didn't sell it and returned it to her years later.

Now, ironically, the time that Joni, Cary and the other young nomads lived in the caves of Matala is celebrated with an annual music festival said to draw visitors in the thousands.

Like another of Joni's songs says: It goes "round and round and round in the circle game."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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