"The Boho Dance" as written by and Joni Mitchell....
Down in the cellar in the Boho zone
I went looking for some sweet inspiration, oh well
Just another hard-time band
With Negro affectations
I was a hopeful in rooms like this
When I was working cheap
It's an old romance-the Boho dance
It hasn't gone to sleep

But even on the scuffle
The cleaner's press was in my jeans
And any eye for detail
Caught a little lace along the seams

And you were in the parking lot
Subterranean by your own design
The virtue of your style inscribed
On your contempt for mine
Jesus was a beggar, he was rich in grace
And Solomon kept his head in all his glory
It's just that some steps outside the Boho dance
Have a fascination for me

A camera pans the cocktail hour
Behind a blind of potted palms
And finds a lady in a Paris dress
With runs in her nylons

You read those books where luxury
Comes as a guest to take a slave
Books where artists in noble poverty
Go like virgins to the grave
Don't you get sensitive on me
'Cause I know you're just too proud
You couldn't step outside the Boho dance now
Even if good fortune allowed

Like a priest with a pornographic watch
Looking and longing on the sly
Sure it's stricken from your uniform
But you can't get it out of your eyes

Nothing is capsulized in me
On either side of town
The streets were never really mine
Not mine these glamour gowns


Lyrics submitted by pumkinhed

"The Boho Dance" as written by Joni Mitchell

Lyrics © Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

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The Boho Dance song meanings
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    My InterpretationA section in Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word apparently describes The Boho Dance as an art mating ritual between a modern artist and a patron, whereby the artist attempts the ticklish task of hawking his or her artistic output while maintaining a self-image of impecunious bohemian purity.

    While the book focusses on the visual art scene, this song also concerns itself with the equivalent process in the music industry. It looks back on the journey the narrator has taken for her music to become successful - the struggle to maintain integrity while keeping the accountants happy. Since it’s told in the first person, and seems more autobiographical than other songs on the album, it seems safe to assume it’s about Ms Mitchell herself, though the only clue that the narrator is even female comes in the last line, ‘Not mine these glamour gowns’.

    In some ways this song echoes The Jungle Line - both are first person, the narrator is observing a band in a cellar venue, and both are the second track on their sides of the original vinyl album. It’s even possible this song is also set in New York, where Ms Mitchell began her solo musical career, though the location isn’t specified in the lyrics.

    It’s a song about looking back from a certain level of success to its more humble, comparatively cash-starved beginnings. In this it echoes Ms Mitchell’s earlier ‘For Free’ and ‘For the Roses’. The song also contrasts her own approach with that of the ‘you’ introduced in the second verse, somebody who seems to be a visual artist still very much caught up in Boho Dancing.

    The first verse of the song begins with the narrator descending from her now-comfortable lifestyle into a music cellar in a counterculture part of the city - and it has to be a city of some size to have its own bohemian zone. She’s looking for some music with authenticity that might inspire her, but finds only something tired, imitative and hackneyed. Oh well.
    This sets her thinking about the beginnings of her own musical career, when she played as an unknown in places like this. She acknowledges the pull that those times still have on her, that striving for commercial success while retaining artistic purity.

    I’m guessing ‘the scuffle’ is a generic term for the dusty, worn-out stages she performed her music on, though the word also suggests the struggle she had to get her songs heard back then. But even in those bohemian venues, she put some effort into what she wore, something that would have been anathema to the more self-regarding bohemian performers - her jeans were cleaned and pressed, and she’d accessorised her clothes with lace.

    In the second verse we’re introduced to the character referred to only as ‘you’. I’m assuming it’s a man, though the only indication of this is that he’s compared to a ‘priest’ in the last verse. And that he’s arrogant. Is he literally in an underground car park? Or is that symbolic of his below street level existence (extra-genuine bohemian that he is)? Perhaps he lives or works in an underground studio because it’s cheap. Perhaps he’s vandalising the car park by painting on the walls (which would provide another link with The Jungle Line, and with ‘freedom scribbled in the subways’ in Shadows and Light). Perhaps it’s even symbolic of his bank balance. It’s hard to tell. The cellar bar the song started in was below street level, so perhaps it connects through to this car park.
    By being scornful of her success (and as he sees it, her capitulation to the system), he implies that his own position is the morally pure one of ‘noble poverty’, where realising significant money for your art invalidates it. (This is an argument that still goes on - Grayson Perry has some interesting things to say about it.)
    She tries to mollify him by citing two contrasting Biblical examples, firstly that of Jesus being incorruptible and admirable in his life of poverty, and then the counter example of Solomon maintaining his integrity despite his great wealth. Therefore it’s possible, she argues, to remain true to your ideals whether you’re rich or poor. She insists she’s remained true to hers, even though her drive to achieve has taken her beyond this particular masquerade (using the combined image both of taking a different dance step to those of the Boho Dance, and of stepping outside of it).

    There follows the description of an expensively-dressed lady at an elegant televised event who has ladders in her stockings. This might mean that even the rich can have a bohemian streak (albeit accidental), or that the lady is poor even though she sits among the wealthy, or that anyone can appear bohemian, that there’s no inherent honour in it. It’s also possible that this lady is the narrator, which would correlate with the mention of ‘glamour gowns’ at the end of the song.

    The third verse begins by considering the books, presumably about artists, which show that achieving wealth, while at first welcome, can in the end ruin the artist’s creativity by tethering it to financial gain, rather than it remaining a pure reflection of the artist’s intent. On the other hand there are books which extol artists who were poor and unsuccessful during their lifetimes yet remained true to their artistic vision.
    She accuses the ‘you’ of feigned sensitivity, because it’s so much at odds with the pride which she knows drives him. She says he would be unable to leave the systematised push-pull of maintaining the artifice of bohemian credibility, even if he were to make enough money to move beyond it; that while he accuses others of being slaves to money, he himself exhibits an equally unhealthy slavery to the Boho Dance.

    While his identity (visual and otherwise) is that of a bohemian poor-but-true artist, he’s lured by money in much the same way as a celibate priest is drawn to sex.

    She, on the other hand, never felt her identity was defined by being poor (‘the streets’), just as it now isn’t defined by being well-off (‘these glamour gowns’). And since she never fully identified with either extreme, those identities never fully defined her.
    TrueThomason February 03, 2016   Link

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