‘Both sides now’ was written by Joni Mitchell in 1967, but was recorded first by Judy Collins in 1967 itself. Joni Mitchell recorded her version only in 1969. However I only heard it in 2012 thanks to the cover done by Carly Rae Jepsen. Although I did like the bubbly ‘call me maybe’-ness that Carly added to it, I felt the lyrics were about something less bubbly but real.
After a short Google session, I discovered Joni Mitchell’s 1969 recording of it, which is my favourite now. When Joni wrote the song she had just started to get famous after having been an unknown singer for quite sometime. When I listened to it for the first time I was just starting to realize that I was an adult and the child-ish world that I had once lived in was fading away. These lyrics really captured the changes that I felt. Let me explain ………….
The verses of the song, in groups describe how clouds, love and friends can seem different when viewed from two different places. This information is used to reach a conclusion about life in general in the last (repeated) verse. In my interpretation below, I assume that clouds, love and friends are first viewed as a child or teenager and then as an adult, the difference that these two perspectives reveals something about life as an adult.
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way
For a child, clouds are heavenly, dreamy things to look at. Clouds can look like ‘angel hair’, ‘ice cream castles’ or ‘feather canyons’. This is a childish way of looking at clouds.
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
An adult however looks at clouds in a different way. Clouds ‘block the sun’ and they are a sign of impending rain or snow. As an adult you realize that you can’t do all the things that you dreamed of when you were a child, because you now understand that that there are limits to what you can do. These limits can be a lack of time, a lack of money, a lack of talent or even a lack of motivation, but they all stop us from doing things that we otherwise wanted to do. That is the adult-ish way of looking at clouds, you see them as something that would disrupt your plans not something that makes you dream.
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
No one becomes an adult without being a child first, so by the time you see the clouds as an adult, you’ve already seen them as a child. Even as an adult you remember the way the clouds used to make you feel when you were a child. This brings you to the conclusion that you may not have really seen clouds at all but just illusions of them.
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way
This verse is definitely my favourite verse in the song. It accurately describes the innocence of young love. Time tends to go longer because you remember everything that happens. There are long nights that you spend with the moon, then there are days that all seem to belong to June, the month with the longest days. On the whole it feels like you’re going in a Ferris wheel. You feel that you’re the prince or princess in a fairy-tale, because you can’t believe that you can feel so much.
But now it’s just another show
You leave ’em laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
Don’t give yourself away
After a while, you realize that not every fairy tales is a forever after and that some fairy-tales do come to an end. You act like you were when you were in love in those younger days, but it doesn’t quite feel as magical. Now you know that not everyone is going to feel sad that you’ve left them. You guard your feelings because you don’t want to let them know too early, in case the feeling isn’t reciprocated.
I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all
Just like the clouds, by the time you are an adult you’ve seen love as something that might end up in a happily-ever-after or not, that it feels like it’s just love’s illusions that you’ve felt all this time.
Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way
I don’t think this is just a child-ish way to see friends but a way in which you see a genuine friend. You share your tears and fears with them, and you are proud to call them a friend. You dream together with your friends and and try to come-up with different schemes to achieve those dreams. Sometimes life can feel like being in the midst of a circus crowd, which I assume is a noisy and messy situation to be in, and it is at those times that we really see how valuable it is to have this type of genuine friendship.
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day
Sometimes as we grow older and our perspective on life changes, we can’t always relate to some friends that we’ve had before, because of how different we have become. We might loose some friends because of this but we may also be able to make more friends with whom we share our new interests with. Living means that we keep changing. New perspectives, new interests and new ideas mean that we have lost the old ones but we have gained the new.
The conclusion – Life
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all
As a child you understand that life not just always about the happy times, but as a child you tend to think that your friends, your current surroundings, the things you value the most, your ideas all will remain just as they are. However as you grow-up you realize that its not just your surroundings and the people in your life that have changed. You yourself have changed, in someways you’re just like the child you once were, but in some other ways your almost a different person. You really don’t know what life is at all.
As children or teenagers, we feel that we know everything about ourselves and that we have complete control of ourselves. As adults we realize that there’s so much that we don’t know about and that every body else around us like ourselves doesn’t really know what’s going on and that they are just making it up as they go along. Even when you thought your parents and all those adults knew exactly what they were doing, they were just doing the best they can and what they thought was the right thing to do. Coming to this realization is one way of knowing that you are at least on the way to become an adult.