"Willy" as written by and Joni Mitchell....
Willy is my child, he is my father
I would be his lady all my life
He says he'd love to live with me
But for an ancient injury
That has not healed
He said I feel once again
Like I gave my heart too soon
He stood looking through the lace
At the face on the conquered moon
And counting all the cars up the hill
And the stars on my window sill
There are still more reasons why I love him

Willy is my joy, he is my sorrow
Now he wants to run away and hide
He says our love cannot be real
He cannot hear the chapel's pealing silver bells
But you know it's hard to tell
When you're in the spell if it's wrong or if it's real
But you're bound to lose
If you let the blues get you scared to feel
And I feel like I'm just being born
Like a shiny light breaking in a storm
There are so many reasons why I love him


Lyrics submitted by threearmedman

"Willy" as written by Joni Mitchell

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

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Willy song meanings
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  • +3
    My InterpretationThis song is a piano-based vignette, very like 'For Free' on the same album. The tale it tells is, on one level, little more than a brief description of a scene and her thoughts around it. This being Ms Mitchell, though, she has woven a lovely and percipient few minutes of song out of this humble material. Convincingly ascribed to her relationship with Graham Nash, nicknamed Willy (for reasons perhaps best left unexplored here), the song examines what seems to be a significant moment early in their time together, when she is already in love with him, but he is still doubtful and hesitant.

    The setting for the song would seem to be her house in Laurel Canyon (she mentions 'my windowsill', and counting 'cars up the hill' - such a vehicle appearing in the album cover artwork, and a trope she returns to in Car On A Hill). It's nighttime (stars are shining), and he's standing at a window looking through a lace curtain at the moon while she watches and waits. And that's it. It's almost a still-life - nothing moves except the unseen cars coming up the hill. Everything else in the lyrics concerns the thoughts and feelings she has tumbling around.

    She begins by stating that Willy is her perfect man, satisfying her desires as a mother, as a child, as a lover. She's ready to commit to him lifelong. But he has voiced conflicted thoughts concerning their relationship, and it’s that which has brought them to this uneasy and pivotal moment. He would 'love to live' with her, but he still bears the wounds of a former relationship ('an ancient injury that has not healed', the melody dropping sadly towards the end of the line). He feels he may have fallen for her too quickly and recklessly. Desire battles wariness within him.
    What follow are perhaps the song's most significant lines : 'He stood looking through the lace/At the face on the conquered moon'. These convey almost the whole visual reality of the song. But they hold much more, with that internal rhyme lending them further strength. She may be regarding the moon (a symbol of both love and femininity) as her avatar, while he, in observing it as he does through curtain lace, isn't seeing a clear image. By implication, neither is he seeing with clarity her love for him and what she's offering. That word 'conquered' is also heavy with meaning - she recognises that he's already claimed her, but on top of that, this song was written in 1969, the year of the moon landing, when Armstrong and Aldrin had recently conquered, or at least briefly visited, the moon. This was a consciousness-changing event for humankind in general at that time, and must certainly have been so for Ms Mitchell, who returns to images from astronomy and the space programme in other songs, such as Woodstock, Hejira, Refuge of the Roads and Ethiopia.
    So he stares at the moon, and she waits. She counts cars coming up the hill, the stars on the windowsill. Perhaps she's trying to pass time with what patience she can until he's made his decision. Though by immediately following on, 'There are still more reasons why I love him', she seems to have found the total she's reached still insufficient to cover all his attractions. (We're perhaps reminded here too of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways').

    The second verse begins with a line still reminiscent of counting, but this time magpies ('One for sorrow, two for joy' etc.), attempting to divine which way a situation will go for the person counting. Willy makes her feel both happy and sad, and he too is suffering. He wants to retreat - he doubts their love is genuine because he can't foresee it leading to marriage ('the chapel's pealing silver bells'). But she tells herself, or perhaps him silently, that it's difficult to see clearly whether your love for someone is either sensible or solid when you're tumbling in the turmoil of its early stages. But you have to take the risk, because (again propelled by an internal rhyme) '... you're bound to lose/If you let the blues get you scared to feel'. She's internally telling him (or possibly herself) that if you allow old pain to close your heart to new possibilities, then you seal disappointment into your life; that we enrich ourselves through relationships with other people, despite the necessary vulnerability of opening ourselves up to them.
    In contrast to him, she feels that she's coming alive in this turmoil, using the lovely image of a 'light breaking in a storm'. She might also be seeing herself in some way as a guiding light, to encourage him out of his internal storm towards the warmth and safety she’s offering. There may even be a suggestion that she's beginning to perceive that he loves her too, and the joy of that makes her radiant. The verse ends exuberantly : 'There are so many reasons why I love him.'

    The last line of the song is a reprise of the first, 'Willy is my child he is my father', but this time seems to carry a more nuanced tone, of her being indulgent to, while slightly exasperated by, his childish unreasonableness and paternal sternness and immovability. She’s still acknowledging, though, that she loves him, as you love a father or a child despite their uncooperativeness or where their obstinacy gets in between you and what you want. It's even possible that in her maternal love of Willy, she's manifesting something of her feelings towards the daughter she had given up for adoption some years previously.

    SPOILER ALERT : As a context for the song, Graham Nash left his crumbling marriage, moved in with her, and they lived together in her house for two years. In the end she split from him with a telegram from Greece stating, 'If you hold sand too tightly in your hand, it will run through your fingers. Love, Joan.' Oof. More poetic than 'You're chucked,' I suppose, but I bet it hurt every bit as much.
    TrueThomason August 17, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is a love song about Graham Nash; his nickname is Willy.
    dutch618on February 15, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentHilichris, you are an idiot. And an asshole. Also, completely ignorant.

    I know this has nothing to do with the song, but I take comfort in the fact that it's not as stupid as Hilichris's comment.
    emilieheidelon November 30, 2007   Link
  • -1
    General Commenthahaha i dont even no who joni mitchell is or what this song is even about i just searched "willy" cause i thought i would be funny.

    and it is kinda
    if you think about it
    cause the name of this song is refuring to a doodle/weewee/peepee/dick/penis/cock/winky/fred derst
    Hilichrison November 28, 2007   Link

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