Case of You

This morning in bed, Richard and I listened to Joni Mitchell singing “Case of You,” and I thought about some of the lyrics and ways they might be interpreted in #MeToo‘s framing of sex and female suffering. I know there is no such thing as a #MeToo philosophy you can nail down, but bear with me in my attempt to think about a thrust from feminism, the reboot that misses some of the subtlety of sexual desire mixed with drunken passion for another person you are lucky in a lifetime to feel even once. That’s what the song portrays, these feelings felt by a woman for a man. It’s widely known Joni was writing about her love affair with Leonard Cohen. The lyrics that struck me were these:
I met a woman
She had a mouth like yours, she knew your life
She knew your devils and your deeds and she said
“Go to him
stay with him if you can
But be prepared to bleed”
Oh, but you are in my blood you’re my holy wine
You’re so bitter
Bitter and so sweet, oh
I could drink a case of you darling
Still I’d be on my feet
I would still be on my feet

The woman with a mouth like Leonard’s is his mother. So here is a mother–not Joni’s, but a woman of an older generation instructing a younger woman about how to shape herself around an attractive but clearly difficult man. From our perspective now, you could wonder why Mom doesn’t think her son needs to reshape himself to fit better into Joni’s needs. In 1971, when the song was composed, the women’s movement was in full throttle and plenty of us were thinking these exact thoughts. But Joni wasn’t a feminist and has said numerous times she still isn’t a feminist, damn her, but put that bit aside for now. I am. Back to young Joni and young Leonard. Young Leonard is already a star and very sexy. He just had a sexiness about him that came across in his writing, a man awash in sex in ways women could identify with. Me, anyway. I don’t know if he was actually good in bed, but never mind that, too. Leonard can probably have sex with anyone he wants whenever he wants to, and who is going to resist that? (This is a rhetorical question.) The thing I love about this song and this particular lyric is that Joni/narrator doesn’t care about getting wounded. She is “prepared to bleed” because we always have to be prepared to bleed in these kinds of encounters in life. There is no safety that any amount of reforming men can assure, and even if there were, then there would not be “the case of you” to drink. The “case of you” is the sense of sweptness you feel in a passionate erotic relationship, however long it lasts, and it doesn’t last long like this, in my experience. The point I am making and I think I am making a point is that the song understands the stakes of these kinds of feelings and that they are joyous to celebrate. They are joyous for women to express that they feel. Joni is in control of every note.

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