"For Free" as written by and Curtis Mathew Kirkwood....
I slept last night in a good hotel
I went shopping today for jewels
The wind rushed around in the dirty town
And the children let out from the schools
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free

Now me I play for fortunes
And those velvet curtain calls
I've got a black limousine
And two gentlemen
Escorting me to the halls
And I play if you have the money
Or if you're a friend to me
But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good, for free

Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their T.V.
So they passed his music by
I meant to go over and ask for a song
Maybe put on a harmony
I heard his refrain
As the signal changed
He was playing real good, for free

Lyrics submitted by _ellie

"For Free" as written by Joni Mitchell

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

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For Free song meanings
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  • 0
    General CommentJoni's ode to the noble street musicans of the world! Too bad that someday, the RIAA will send out robots to kill them all and smash their guitars to pieces for not paying royalties...LOL!
    altbobon July 22, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA lovely song about buskers, but Im always disappointed when Joni puts herself down and even feels guilty for askin for money from her audience. The time I saw Joni live was worth every dollar.
    missterfairyon August 24, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationPreceding the step change up to Blue, Joni Mitchell's 'Ladies of the Canyon' album gives the impression of a tying off of her former folky simplicity, and 'For Free' sits happily within this as a straightforward if contemplative, depth-in-simplicity song.

    The song is actually longer in duration than the moment it describes - she's standing on a street corner waiting to cross the road when she hears a busker playing a clarinet on one of the other corners. But this provides a framework for reflection on their contrasting musical fortunes.

    The song considers how unwarranted it is that people pay good money to hear her music, while his, just as worthy, is being ignored. She gets to play in concert halls, receives 'velvet curtain calls' for her performances, stays in good hotels, can afford to treat herself to jewellery and gets driven around in limousines. The venue for his 'good music' is a noisy street corner beside a quick lunch stand in a windy, dirty town. Although his playing is 'real good', the busker is earning little if anything from it. People pass him by because he's an unknown ('never been on their T.V.'), and on top of this there are boisterous children to contend with, released at the end of their school day (which sets the song in mid- to late-afternoon)

    She has a notion to cross over to him and make a request (and presumably a much-needed contribution), perhaps join in with his playing. But the lights change allowing pedestrians to cross, and his tune is coming to an end anyway, so instead of creating any kind of serendipitous musical alliance, however fleeting, each just carries on with their activities - he presumably into his next tune, and she to continue her journey. In effect, she is herself passing his music by.

    The music is imbued with the song's subject. The falling melody of the first lines of the verses conveys her dissatisfaction with what they report ('I slept last night in a good hotel', 'Now me I play for fortunes', 'Nobody stopped to hear him' - the latter ending in piano-thumping frustration). In parts the singing mimics the exuberance and agility of clarinet music, and the song fades at the end into a clarinet solo, in memory of the busker's performance.

    On a personal note, as someone who's tried busking and received deservedly scanty reward for my definitively-not-real-good music, I sympathise with the clarinettist in this song. And I can accept the wilfully atypical pronunciation of 'schools' to make the rhyme, coming myself from a place where 'school' has two syllables (though she'd corrected this by the time of Miles of Aisles). It's a song I have an enduring soft spot for, because it's the one (heard on cheap cassette recorder playing a tape borrowed from the library) that first attracted me into Joni Mitchell's music, opening up that rich world for me.
    TrueThomason July 11, 2013   Link

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