Joni Mitchell’s friends recently threw a big birthday party for her at Los Angeles’ Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. A birthday bash lasting two days must be memorable. People at the party had a lot of style — James Taylor, Norah Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris, Seal, Brandi Carlile, and Los Lobos among others. Someone once wrote she was the best female singer/songwriter in the history of rock and roll. To me, you can drop the gender reference. While she may not be at the top of the class, it doesn’t take long to call the roll.

For the financial geeks, bear with me, there is a moral but let’s honor genius first. When she was dating Leonard Cohen, one of his friends asked Cohen what it was like living with Beethoven. Her lyrics are part of our culture. Many of us sing her songs and don’t realize she penned the tune. South Walton is ground zero for paving paradise and putting up a parking lot; Joni Mitchell said it first. The song is titled “Big Yellow Taxi” and is more about a boyfriend leaving than tree hugging. Her song “River” makes all the Christmas albums and gets a lot of airplay over the holidays but it’s brutally melancholy. Neither Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young wrote “Woodstock” — it was Mitchell.

During Vietnam when macho man Ted Nugent did everything he could, literally, to avoid the draft, Joni Mitchell, unique among her peers, performed for the troops. She played for soldiers at Fort Bragg and sailors at Charleston when Toby Keith was in kindergarten. Her father had been a flight instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force, I understand.

As brilliant as she wrote, people overlook her musical chops. For years she performed solo. Even though she had a band waiting in the wings on “ Miles of Aisles,” some of the timeless tracks are just her and a guitar, dulcimer or piano. But her music style didn’t mesh well with raucous arena concerts. In 1970, she famously scolded the audience at the Isle of Wight festival and was pelted with a water bottle at a Live Aid show.

At the height of her popularity, she changed genres and explored creativity recording with American jazz masters. Her album sales suffered, reaffirming no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. After not recording for over a decade, her 2000 “Both Sides Now” won a pair of Grammys. While making the record, musicians in the orchestra were in tears overwhelmed by her emotional delivery.

Financial planning is not about dying with the most money, it’s about having the financial flexibility to do what you want to do. Joni Mitchell knew what she wanted to do, so she did it and I’m glad.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.