“When I love a song, there is almost always a moment that sounds like how I imagine truth to sound,” writes poet Amy Key in Arrangements in Blue: Notes on Loving and Living Alone. “It’s the moment in the song that touches the bruise you didn’t know you had, the aching, denied part of you. You are found out by it.”
Every track of Joni Mitchell’s Blue uncovers a bruise for Key. The 1971 album has been dear to her for three decades, since she borrowed the cassette tape from her older sister when she was 14. From the moment Mitchell sang, “I am on a lonely road and I am travelling, travelling, travelling, travelling, looking for something, what can it be?” Key experienced a sense of longing. At first it was a longing to consume every note of the album. But as she’s moved through the decades of her life, Key has come to associate Blue with her desire for romantic love. She yearns for a partner, but she also yearns for a sense of self that isn’t defined by her singleness.
In Arrangements in Blue, Key uses Mitchell’s seminal work as a magnifying glass for her emotions and experiences as a single woman. These 10 essays parallel the tracks of Blue, but intimacy with the album isn’t required to understand and appreciate Key’s insights. She recounts solo meals and solo travels, and reflects on how people have looked at her during those moments. She confesses all the ways she’s held out her heart and body to men who were happy to receive but unwilling to open themselves in return. By embracing a vulnerability that matches Mitchell’s, Key reveals the full spectrum of human feeling with words honed as carefully as poetry.
Key offers analysis of Mitchell’s work throughout, but Arrangements in Blue isn’t exactly about Blue. It’s a window into the way one woman has moved through a world that’s quick to define women by their relationships. It’s also an ode to the ways music can give voice to our emotions, sometimes shape-shifting over years to remain as relevant as the first time we hit play.