“Free Man in Paris”

June 24, 2023 • 1:15 pm

I’m exhausted and not feeling so hot, so you’ll have to do with music today. Plus it’s supposed to be my day off, and I’d like to reclaim Saturdays for fun before I die!

Once again YouTube “suggestions” lured me to this song, a superb one from what I think is Joni Mitchell’s last good album, “Court and Spark” (1974; hear the original song here). This was before she got deeper into jazz, although jazz elements are already creeping into her music, as you can see in this performance with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. Still, she was the best: a great writer, singer, and instrumentalist.  I haven’t seen anybody with comparable talent in my lifetime.

The YouTube notes: “Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker, Lyle Mays, Don Alias.”  This is not the Pat Metheny group.

The song is clearly about a music executive who, tied up in his duties, longs to be a flâneur in Paris, an aspiration that I share!  But YouTube informs us that it was written about one person:

The song is about music agent/promoter David Geffen, a close friend of Mitchell in the early 1970s, and describes Geffen during a trip the two made to Paris with Robbie and Dominique Robertson. While Geffen is never mentioned by name, Mitchell describes how he works hard creating hits and launching careers but can find some peace while vacationing in Paris. Mitchell sings “I was a free man in Paris. I felt unfettered and alive. Nobody calling me up for favors. No one’s future to decide.”

And I found some information about Geffen, too (we’ve all heard of him):

Geffen has an estimated net worth of $10.8 billion, making him one of the richest people in the entertainment industry.

Geffen was initially defensive about his sexuality. During the 1970s he fell in love with Cher and spent 18 months in a relationship with her, a time he referred to as “the greatest high I had ever experienced”. Eventually, Cher left him for Gregg Allman.  Geffen eventually came out as gay in 1992. In May 2007, Out magazine ranked Geffen first in its list of the fifty “Most Powerful Gay Men and Women in America”.

Below is a live version that’s closer to the original, recorded four years after the one above. The YouTube notes:

Written & produced by Joni Mitchell | from the album Court & Spark (1974) | live from Wembley Arena, London (1983)

13 thoughts on ““Free Man in Paris”

  1. I saw a video of that same concert a while ago – I bet that weighted the recommendation. Amazing group to see.

  2. “Joni Mitchell’s last good album”
    Wow. I could not disagree more strongly. The 6 albums that followed C&S are her very best, in my view. One of them is the live album with Metheny et al., Shadows and Light.

    1. Yes, this is the classic divide between Mitchell as a folk/rock singer and her later “sophisticated” years. But the songs they’l be playing of hers in 20 years will still be coming from the albums up to “Court and Spark.” That’s the music she wrote that will endure.

      1. I think “Blue” is my favourite album, followed by “Hejira.” I have them all on CD, and nearly all on vinyl. I bought “For The Roses” while I was still at school, and it still sounds perfect! Clean your records, folks.

  3. … what I think is Joni Mitchell’s last good album, “Court and Spark” (1974; hear the original song here) …

    A supportable assertion, I suppose. Still, there’s a special place in my heart for Joni’s 1979 experimental collaboration with composer, bandleader, and bassist Charles Mingus (eponymously entitled Mingus), recorded shortly before (and completed shortly after) the great jazzman’s death, and featuring performances by a host of jazz legends, including Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock, among others.

  4. I think that she sang the chorus/reprise “free man in Paris” up an octave on my album. Brings back some great. 70’s music memories…when we were young! Thanks, Jerry.

  5. “…I haven’t seen anybody with comparable talent in my lifetime….”

    Apart from, perhaps, the aforementioned Pat Metheny.

  6. As with all music, it’s a matter of taste, but I too think she released some fine albums in the mid-to-late seventies. The musicality of that band in 1979 was exceptional, especially Pastorius, who had such great feel. Lots to watch on YouTube and none better than Black Crow.


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