No regrets, coyote
We just come from such different sets of circumstance
I'm up all night in the studios
And you're up early on your ranch
You'll be brushing out a brood mare's tail
While the sun is ascending
And I'll just be getting home with my reel to reel
There's no comprehending
Just how close to the bone and the skin and the eyes
And the lips you can get
And still feel so alone
And still feel related
Like stations in some relay
You're not a hit and run driver, no, no
Racing away
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

We saw a farmhouse burning down
In the middle of nowhere
In the middle of the night
And we rolled right past that tragedy
'Til we turned down to some road house lights
Where a local band was playing
Locals were up kicking and shaking on the floor
And the next thing I know
That coyote's at my door
He pins me in a corner and he won't take no
He drags me out on the dance floor
And we're dancing close and slow
Now he's got a woman at home
He's got another woman down the hall
He seems to want me anyway
Why'd you have to get so drunk
And lead me on that way
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

I looked a coyote right in the face
On the road to Baljennie, near my old home town
He went running thru the whisker wheat
Chasing some prize down
And a hawk was playing with him
Coyote was jumping straight up and making passes
He had those same eyes just like yours
Under your dark glasses
Privately probing the public rooms
And peeking through keyholes in numbered doors
Where the players lick their wounds
And take their temporary lovers
And their pills and powders
To get them through this passion play
No regrets, coyote
I just get off up aways
You just picked up a hitcher
A prisoner of the white lines on the freeway

Coyote's in the coffee shop
He's staring a hole in his scrambled eggs
He picks up my scent on his fingers
While he's watching the waitresses' legs
He's too far from the Bay of Fundy
From appaloosas and eagles and tides
And the air conditioned cubicles
And the carbon ribbon rides
Are spelling it out so clear
Either he's going to have to stand and fight
Or take off out of here
I tried to run away myself
To run away and wrestle with my ego
With this, this flame
You put here in this Eskimo
In this hitcher
In this prisoner
Of the fine white lines
Of the white lines on the free, freeway

Lyrics submitted by Nelly

Coyote Lyrics as written by Joni Mitchell


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Coyote song meanings
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    My InterpretationCoyote - Joni Mitchell

    Sam Shepard’s death was announced today, so since this song is about him, it seems a fitting day to post an interpretation of it.

    The song concerns a brief fling Joni Mitchell had with him on the Dylan-led Rolling Thunder Revue. She had joined the tour for one night and ended up staying with it for nearly a month. Dylan had brought Shepard along to document the tour and come up with a script for his own proposed movie Renaldo and Clara (which ended up being pretty much improvised anyway).

    Ms Mitchell wrote some songs on the tour which would appear on her Hejira album. This was one of them, and she performed it on the Montreal date in an unfinished form, having written a draft of the final verse only the night before. The song as it appears on the album is naturally more polished, but retains that breathless intensity consistent with its cocaine-fuelled origins. Its delivery lies somewhere between song and the spoken word, as much akin to future rap as to any other musical genre. There’s a lot of road imagery throughout, reflecting the circumstances it describes and under which it was written. The lyrics shift in time between the present tense (imbuing the song with an immediacy to what it’s describing) and sections in past and future tenses, as experiences reported, occurring or anticipated.

    The name Coyote, which she uses for Sam Shepard, presumably came from his slightly coyote-like or lupine appearance and presumably also some aspects of his behaviour (coyotes are seen as tricksters who charm to deceive), although as the song makes clear at the outset, she’s at peace with him (‘No regrets Coyote’). She immediately continues by contrasting their lifestyles, hers as a recording artist in Los Angeles and his on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, as an obstacle. She shifts into the future tense as she considers the impossibility of them being together, how she’ll be up all night working in the recording studio, only getting home late at night with what she’s recorded (her ‘reel-to-reel’ master tapes) by which time he’ll already be up and grooming a breeding mare in the early morning. Though with Nova Scotia four hours ahead of LA this is perhaps less of a difference than it might first appear. ‘Reel’ also carries the suggestion of her reeling home late at night through either tiredness or drink.
    She says it’s perplexing how close you can be to someone physically (skin, eyes, lips, the interfaces of passion - ‘bone’ here may or may not be a phallic reference) and yet still feel isolated from them (and perhaps from everyone). This seems to be a general comment, not one about Coyote specifically.
    ‘Stations in some relay’ implies him or her going from partner to partner to partner. It’s perhaps in the nature of things to see yourself as the stationary base while lovers come and go, or yourself as the runner pausing temporarily to be with some lover before heading off again, or as an object being transported along by the process. But all pieces in the relay have a value to all other pieces.
    He’s not a hit and run driver (more road imagery) leaving the scene of damage he’s caused. Instead he just picked up a hitcher (‘pick up’ in both the way a relay runner receives a baton and also in the amorous sense, and ‘hitcher’ in both the hitchhiker sense and also the ‘hitching up together’ sense of a temporary binding with someone, like hitching up one of his horses). They just travelled along together for a while and then parted, neither of them the worse for the experience. Ms Mitchell’s also spoken of hitching up temporarily with this tour and playing dates in Canada and the North-Eastern US, almost like someone thumbing down a ride with them for a short time. She’s described this time as like running away to join the circus.
    ‘The white lines of the freeway’ has (at least) a dual meaning here - freeway markings are often a pair of solid white lines down the middle of the road, or solid white lines at the sides. So she’s on the tour, feeling imprisoned in vehicles by those white lines of the freeways she travels on. But this must also refer to cocaine - she’s talked about how she got heavily into cocaine on that tour, and indeed instead of getting paid in cash she allegedly took her payment in cocaine.

    The second verse starts with the tour vehicles passing the sad spectacle of a farmhouse on fire. She was keenly aware of being in the presence of someone’s tragedy, yet the vehicles kept on moving to leave it far behind. They stopped at a roadhouse (a pub-restaurant-motel type of establishment) where a local band was playing music (I wonder how they felt when these famous musicians dropped in. Though it was presumably known in advance that they were staying there that night from the booking, even if done under aliases) and local people were busy doing some rollicking dancing. She went to her room and we shift back to the present tense as Coyote comes drunk to her door, insisting she come and dance with him (using the predator-prey imagery of her being pinned in a corner, caught and dragged out). This marks the start of their affair. They’re dancing romantically, even though he’s in a relationship back home on the Bay of Fundy and is also involved with someone else on the tour. She complains about his drink-fuelled coaxing, and perhaps her own weakness in being easily led, but feels she has no choice - she’s a captive of the road, and must let it lead her where it will.

    She confronts Coyote on the way to Baljennie, 80 miles from her home town of Saskatoon. Instead of facing up to her he runs off playfully through a wheatfield (presumably a type of wheat with bristly hairs, or awns, so ‘whisker-wheat’). I can’t imagine he’s playing with a literal hawk here (such creatures would rarely attack an active man unless their nests are threatened, and they wouldn’t be nesting in a wheatfield), so it looks like the hawk is her, or perhaps a representation of her anger as he clowns about and flirts with her. Then she addresses someone else in the second-person, accusing them of having the same kind of eyes, or look, beneath their sunglasses. She might even be addressing herself here, seeing herself in a reflection and accusing herself of the same kind of behaviour.
    Coyote is actively watching (hawk-like?) everyone around him, ‘privately probing’ the tour personnel while they’re in public spaces (the ‘private’ suggesting a private investigator) and covertly peering through keyholes into people’s rooms to observe the players (the musicians on the tour) going through their troubles, their sexual encounters, their drug-taking to cope with the madness of this tour. This is presumably being done for the purposes of the screenplay, to document what happened, although Shepard later wrote a book about it all.
    She tells him she has no regrets, that they’ll be parting soon anyway when she leaves the tour while he continues on with it.

    The use of the third person in the last verse suggests that she’s gone and so is looking at the scene remotely, as a narrator rather than a participant. Coyote sits in a coffee shop lost in thought, staring at a plate of scrambled eggs in front of him but not eating. There are thoughts going through his head. Maybe he’s missing her, although he’s already eyeing up the waitresses (significantly in the plural - this is just his lust idling) while he notices the smell of her scent on his fingers (so she can’t be long gone - and this scent is presumably of a more sexual nature than scent that comes from a bottle. There’s also the link here with Coyote as a hunting animal picking up a scent).
    He’s homesick - at the time Sam Shepard had a farm on the NE shore of the Bay of Fundy, with its appaloosa horses, eagles in the sky (a link with the earlier hawk reference?) and the world’s largest tidal range. These are all things with a feel of open-air freedom about them, while he finds himself stuck in air-conditioned cubicles (buildings, rooms and vehicles), typing away on an old-style typewriter (which, for anyone too young to have used one, had a carbon ribbon for ink above the moving roller carriage in which the paper was held). Coyote is a creature of the open-air cooped up in small spaces. And the words he finds himself typing show him that he’s either going to have to tough this tour out, getting from it what he can, or flee it. She also tried to flee, to wrestle with her personality and with the warm feeling he’s kindled in her. She calls herself an Eskimo - someone used to the cold, or who was feeling cold, or was cold to him, or perhaps just someone from the north (she’s Canadian). It may even be his nickname for her because of that. She’s also a hitcher, and a prisoner of cocaine and of road travel. ‘The free free way’ trails off the lyrics by conveying the nature of the open road and the freedom she has found there.

    The song has a carefree, playful, easy-rolling feel to it. The music rolls along like wheels moving down the highway. There’s lots of lovely alliteration in the lyrics - ‘Privately probing the public rooms’, ‘sun is ascending’, ‘brushing out a brood mare’s tail’, etc. And in the end the music fades out rather than finishing, like the road going on into the distance, getting smaller and smaller. While she could have got snagged in the situation the song describes, instead she remains free and able to move on from it with relative ease.
    TrueThomason July 31, 2017   Link

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