Photo: Joni Mitchell

Love is Music

The Man Beside Me: “Night Ride Home” Turns 33

Written by:
David e. Moreno
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For “Love Is Music,” a radio show on KUNM 89.9, the show’s host and producer asked me to pick a song dedicated to my love, a song that says something about our relationship, our love story. “Music is love; it brings people together. It tells our stories,” said Ann Bromberg over the phone.  “This will be part of our special Valentine episode, and I’m sure it will be great.” Without hesitating, I picked Joni Mitchell’s “Night Ride Home” for my partner of six years, Bill.

“Night Ride Home” is a song about a moment in a marriage, not the hope or regret of one. Not happily ever after, but the simple magic that happens during an ordinary car ride home. Not a metaphysical home but a home shared, a room lived in, a kitchen full of cooked comforts. Unlike most of the songs in Joni’s canon about the spark of romance or the sad end of it—like “Blue,” “Last Chance Lost,” or “See You Sometime”—”Night Ride Home” is a song about the midway, a sharing of that secret place, a solid love with someone you trust. Within it is as much ambiance and musical environment as Joni’s “Paprika Plains,” “Car on A Hill,” and “Tea Leaf Prophecy,” only simplified, with crickets carrying much of its atmospheric sound.
“I love the man beside me, we love the open road.” Joni sings about her then-husband, Larry Klein, about a getaway to Hawaii, a moonlit night, and the spectacle and synchronicity of it. Bill and I travel well together. He is good at navigating the small details while I have my eyes on the big picture, “on the land, and the sky,” hands on the steering wheel, pedal to the metal. So often we find something together we would have missed left to ourselves. A joint decision based on one of our preferences and intuition often leads to new directions and unexpected discoveries. Where I would have turned back, he encourages us to go forward. Where he wants to stop, I say just one more switchback. And each time, we find something perfect, something satisfying to both of us. 
“Night Ride Home,” the title song to Joni Mitchell’s 14th studio album, was released 33 years ago today on February 19th, 1991. Originally titled “Fourth of July,” this critically acclaimed work offered hope that Joni’s lackluster recordings of the 80s were potentially behind her, even though this new release had no hit single. The song is a mature, understated love song not for the reckless or the trapped but for those at ease in the moment—with themself and the person they are sharing it with. A love they have committed to—a confidence in trust. It’s that moment coming back from an event when one of us will say to the other, “That was fun, but the best part was…is… just being with you.” 
“Back at the bar, The band tears down, But out here in the headlight beams, The silver powerlines, Gleam on this Fourth of July, Night ride home…” Love Is Music aired on the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, the day Bill and I were sitting side by side on an airplane flying back from Mexico City, eager to be home.

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