"Shades of Scarlett Conquering" as written by and Joni Mitchell....
Out of the fire like Catholic saints
Comes Scarlett and her deep complaint
Mimicking tenderness she sees
In sentimental movies
A celluloid rider comes to town
Cinematic lovers sway
Plantations and sweeping ballroom gowns
Take her breath away

Out in the wind in crinolines
Chasing the ghosts of Gable and Flynn
Through stand-in boys and extra players
Magnolias hopeful in her auburn hair
She comes from a school of southern charm
She likes to have things her way
Any man in the world holding out his arm
Would soon be made to pay

Friends have told her not so proud
Neighbors trying to sleep and yelling "Not so loud!"
Lovers in anger Block of Ice
Harder and harder just to be nice
Given in the night to dark dreams
From the dark things she feels
She covers her eyes in the x-rated scenes
Running from the reels

Beauty and madness to be praised
Cause it is not easy to be brave
To walk around in so much need
To carry the weight of all that greed
Dressed in stolen clothes she stands
Cast iron and frail
With her impossibly gentle hands
And her blood-red fingernails

Out of the fire and still smoldering
She says "A woman must have everything"
Shades of Scarlett Conquering
She says "A woman must have everything"

Lyrics submitted by threearmedman

"Shades of Scarlett Conquering" as written by Joni Mitchell

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Shades of Scarlett Conquering song meanings
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  • +2
    My InterpretationThis seems to be the portrait of a young woman who’s come out of a bad situation back home in the South to make it in Hollywood. We don’t learn the nature of what happened - it’s referred to only as ‘the fire’. Though as well as the pyres lit under Catholic martyrs, combining ‘the fire’ with the song title suggests the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind. There’s perhaps also a hint that she’s overcome a state of ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ by getting out of the fire as well - a narrow escape. But whatever happened back there, it’s left her damaged (‘still smouldering’, ‘her deep complaint’, ‘the dark things she feels’, ‘madness’). And while she’s certainly no saint, as the song makes clear, she has the ability to appear like one, at least temporarily (‘southern charm’, ‘impossibly gentle hands’, ‘mimicking tenderness’). Perhaps this is part of an acting talent she’s hoping to capitalise on in LA. And she’s certainly attractive (‘auburn hair’, ‘beauty’), which never hurts in the movie business. That she’s in LA to make it in Hollywood is indicated by various movie references (‘cinematic’, ‘celluloid’, ‘reels’, ‘Gable and Flynn’, ‘stand in boys’, ‘extra players’), though the first and second verses suggest that she’s got no further than being a bit player in Southern films.

    Her delicate mental health is becoming increasingly problematic, though, as the damage from her past catches up with her. This echoes similar problems suffered by Vivien Leigh, the actress who played Scarlett O’Hara whose shades our protagonist manifests. Appropriately for someone who wants to act, she uses artifice to cover this up - mimicking tenderness, hiding her need and greed behind a brave face, working ‘harder and harder just to be nice’. But acting only gets you so far, and ‘she covers her eyes in the x-rated scenes’ - possibly violent scenes, more probably sexual ones - presumably because they rekindle memories of ‘the fire’ she fled from. That her problems are connected to sex is reinforced by her men’s accusations that she’s frigid (‘Block of Ice’) - her neighbours are being kept awake not by the throes of passion but by loud arguments. She brings men home yet can’t fulfil their (and presumably her own) expectations. And these men falling for her are taking an unknown risk (‘any man in the world holding out his arm/Would soon be made to pay’, ‘blood red fingernails’). Nevertheless, she continues to use her powers of attraction to work her way through handsome minor actors, and seems to have set her sights on finding a future movie star whose earnings will let her return to the South and live in luxury. But given her fragility and the fact that she’s already struggling (‘not easy to be brave’, ‘so much need’, ‘cast iron and frail’, ‘still smouldering’) you’ve got to think it’s unlikely she’ll succeed - even if she manages to sustain a relationship, would she be stable enough internally to enjoy the riches of such a lifestyle? Straight out of casting for something Southern Gothic, this particular Southern belle is proud and damaged and probably self-destructive. But you’ve got to feel sorry for her.

    A beautiful song about the reality that may lie behind beauty. Lots of lovely imagery, alliteration and assonance, soft syllables and a melody that weaves a graceful path through lush, languid orchestration redolent of Southern nights and balls held in porticoed mansions.
    TrueThomason December 19, 2015   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis has to be some of her best lyrics, and NO ONE else has commented! I hear it being about a woman who is hard to love, because her mind is so steeped in fantasy.
    ameo747on April 28, 2008   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationIf you've not seen "Gone Withe The Wind", you will miss much of the symbolism in this song.

    "Scarlett" is one of those women who believe "A woman must have everything", yet they must portray themselves as frail, delicate creatures.

    For me, the most telling lines in the song are these:
    "Cast iron and frail
    With her impossibly gentle hands
    And her blood-red fingernails"

    Is that nail varnish on ther hands, or real blood? Either way, she's out to dominate.

    It's a kind of woman I see quite often, and I like to give them a very wide berth. It's odd though, how some men are drawn to them.
    scottmeon May 24, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General Commentameo747 - I agree 100%. Hissing of Summer Lawns was a very powerful record. Shining hair and shining skin, shining while she reeled him in....... I love it.
    boxman54on November 27, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is on The Hissing of Summer Lawns which Rolling Stone considered one of the worst albums of 1975. Yet, it show Joni Mitchell at the height of her lyrical powers. Who is her equal? Some in the same vicinity, like Carole King, or fellow Canadian Bruce Cockburn, but none better.

    I think these lyrics portray the Narcissistic Personality Disorder quite neatly. I don't just see the living in a fantasy world as harmless, men a made to pay because her world is all about her, and they get sucked dry. The blood-red fingernails a vampireish image. I think the song isn't about the movie character, but rather a real-life woman Joni can't identify out of liability, so changes the name.

    The whole album is very strong. Don't Interrupt the Sorrow is my fav.
    Scot6113on April 10, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOne contributors mentioned that 'This song is on The Hissing of Summer Lawns which Rolling Stone considered one of the worst albums of 1975.' To put the record straight this is one of those long standing myths. What Rolling Stone actually said was that 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns the worst albums titles of 1975.' However the title bit somewhere got lost and a myth was born!
    ken1921on January 22, 2015   Link

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