When Joni Mitchell Failed To Make Bob Dylan Her Victim

Joni Mitchell’s creative approach to her music often extends beyond the realm of lyrics and melodies. One particular instance surrounding her song ‘Dancin’ Clown” stands out, where she had initially imagined Bob Dylan playing a distinct role, which he later lost to another rockstar.

The musician arranged 53 of her previously released songs about love and heartbreak into a four-CD box set called ‘Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced,’ which came out in 2014. One song in particular from her 1988 album ‘Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm’ that also made the cut in her 2014 box set was ‘Dancin’ Clown.’

The singer, who had previously said that she saw her songs as films, had to cast Tom Petty instead of her old pal Bob Dylan. Joni shared the backstory of how Dylan lost his part to Petty in a 2014 interview with NPR. The singer recalled her original wish to cast Bob as the victim in her storyline by explaining:

“[I wanted] Billy Idol as the bully, and I wanted Bob Dylan to be his victim. Yeah, and I put in a call, Bob was recording, and he didn’t take my calls, and then so I said, ‘Oh, forget it.’ You know, and Tom Petty was in town, so I got him to do it. And then Bob he called me up after, and he said, [imitating Bob Dylan] ‘What did you put him on for? I wanted to do that.'”

The singer revealed that she was working on a tight schedule and had to work with who was available right away. She continued:

“I said, ‘Well, you know, I know you were working, but I was working and there was a deadline.’ [Imitating Bob Dylan] ‘Yeah, but that song, ‘Dancin’ Clown,’ I liked that song, ‘Dancin’ Clown.’ How’d you write that song, you know?’ I said, ‘Off a racing sheet.’ [Imitating Bob Dylan] ‘Oh, I had that idea. I thought it was a dumb idea.’ That’s what he said!”

Mitchell shared the conversation he had with Dylan regarding ‘Dancin’ Clown’ and gave insight into their relationship by adding:

“[Imitating Bob Dylan] ‘Those people are kind of geniuses that name those horses, aren’t they?’ I said, ‘Well, no. It’s just in the breeding, you know. Like it’s half the mare’s name and half the sire’s name.’ [Imitating Bob Dylan] ‘Oh.’ [Laughs.] So, we have some funny conversations, old Bobby and I.”

You can read Joni Mitchell’s 2014 interview with NPR here and listen to Dancin’ Clown’ below.