Next trip: Hawaii’s natural beauty or a parking lot?
Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell :: by Inês Lopes
Written by ines May 08th
If you had the choice, on your next trip, would you rather go immerse yourself in Hawaii’s natural beauty or to a parking lot? No no, go ahead, take some time to reflect, I know it’s a big dilemma.
Photo credit: Julien Avon
The sarcasm stops here. The explanation starts here. With 3 short sentences sung in Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell invites us to Hawaii as well as to start a reflection on the environment. Here is the first blog entry of this series titled “Singin’ and Trippin’” through which we will travel on a few songs’ wings.
“Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot.”
Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote these words in 1970. Her inspiration? The view from her hotel room in Hawaii: a splendid Pacific horizon which, when she slightly lowered her eyes, is interrupted by a parking lot. Here are the wordsshe said to a journalist in the beginning of the 70s (McDougall, A. in Carlson, J., 2006): “I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then, I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise. That’s when I sat down and wrote the song”
“They took all the trees / Put ‘em in tree museum / And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.”
The “Tree Museum” to which refers Joni, was identified as the Foster Botanical Garden (Donnelly in Mattison, N.A.). The FBG is the oldest of the 5 gardens composing the Honolulu Botanical Garden (HBG) system. HBG’s mission is to plan, develop, curate, maintain and study documented collections of tropical plants in an aesthetic setting for the purposes of: conservation, botany, horticulture, education and leisure (Honolulu Botanical Gardens, N.A.). Many exotic or endangered species are conserved in the garden. Unquestionably, the conservation of endangered species is admirable, however, protecting those same species in their natural habitat not only seems more admirable, but more logical.
“Hey farmer, farmer put away that DDT now. / Give me spots on my apples / But leave me the birds and the bees. Please!”
Without any detour or metaphors this time, Joni manifests her disapproval of DDT use, a very toxic pesticide that caused great environmental distress affected many ecosystems and also had health impacts. A couple of years later, in 1972, its use was banned in the USA (Carlson, 2006).
Along the years, Big Yellow Taxi was covered by many artists and has appeared on numerous charts. As much as I’m a fan of this hymn to the environment, I also think it’s pretty sad that it’s still relevant today , even more so with regards to certain issues.
For a first listen or to rediscover it, here is Joni Mitchell singing Big Yellow Taxi.
May the philosophies that inspire this song also inspire the tourism sector, because “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone…”
Carlson, J. (2006). “Big Yellow Taxi”. Paper. University of Minnesota (Duluth). As it appeared on January 31st, 2009.
Mattison, S. (N.A.) “Tree museum”. As it appeared on January 31st, 2009.
Joni Mitchell. Big Yellow Taxi Lyrics.