Sing Books with Emily, the Blog

“Both Sides Now,” A Singable Picture Book and “My Business, with the Cloud,” Artwork at the Corcoran

Posted on: March 7, 2011

I recently found a Singable Picture Book version of Joni Mitchell’s song “Both Sides Now.”


Both Sides Now
Words and Music by Joni Mitchell
Illustrated by Alan Baker

Listening to this song , I feel like I’m again in the early 70s, listening to the car radio, running errands with my mom.

Alan Baker’s pictures are wonderful, and the song’s message so beautifully put forward by Joni Mitchell in juicy words and profound ideas, make this a particularly satisfying Singable Picture Book.  The text in the book exactly matches both Joni Mitchell’s recording as well as Judy Collins’ (although, Ms. Collins does not repeat the last chorus for which there is a lovely page in the book).


I found two karaoke tracks:
One to match the style of  Ms. Mitchell (very slow with guitar):

The other track matches the style of Judy Collins’s rendition (very “Pippin” sounding with synthesized harpsichord – or is that a clavichord? – and much faster).:

I’ve been singing the song with the “Collins” style track since I’ve been getting so emotional about the song and it is more upbeat.  The track for Mitchell’s guitar accompaniment really is lovely.

However, I never want to sing LIKE the another singer, even if a karaoke track is played to match a particular singer’s style.  Even in that context, I believe each singer can make the song her own.  It was fun to start a journey with this song singing with this lovely book and fun to introduce an American Folk Standard to a this great group of kids who had never heard the song before.

An informative Wikipedia article about “Both Sides Now,” here:,_Now


Both Sides Now
Words and Music by Joni Mitchell

Rows and floes of angel hair
and ice cream castles in the air
and feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
but clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s clouds’ illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way

But now it’s just another show
You leave them laughing when you go
And if you care, don’t let them know
don’t give yourself away

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
to say “I love you” right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well, something’s lost, but something’s gained
in living every day

I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all


Joni sings her song on The Johnny Cash Show:

Joni Mitchel sings her song, “Both Sides Now,”

Judy Collins sings, “Both Sides Now,”


5/15/2012 “Both Sides Now” Note:  
We sang “Both Sides Now” in many of the classes (the week of 5/7-5/11, 2012because the book’s illustrations tell the story of a caterpillar enjoying the beauties of life and encountering/dodging some of its dangers to create a chrysalis and become a beautiful butterfly.  Most of the classes I visit have adopted lovely little mesh aviaries for caterpillars who have competed their life cycles right before the children’s eyes.  Magical metamorphoses in action.  It was fun to sing the book and punctuate the experience.


9/20/2012 “Both Sides Now” Note on introducing a mini biology lesson in the life cycle of a butterfly

In May 2012 I noted the connection between the book and the caterpillar/chrysalis/butterfly life cycles the children were getting to observe in their classrooms.  Now, every time I pull out the book, I use the wonderful illustrations to point out the lifecyle that is being depicted with the song’s lyrics.  I especially love how the illustrator matched pictures of the caterpillar’s chrysalis on a two page spread with the butterfly emerging from the cocoon on the second page with the lyrics “…And now old friends are acting strange/They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed/Well, something’s lost and something’s gained/In living every day…”

March 2011

“Both Sides Now”  was running through my head when my children and I stepped into the Corcoran Gallery the other day and saw, “Passing Cloud” by Spenser Finch.

About Spenser Finch’s installations for, “My Business, with the Cloud” at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

Suspended in the building’s rotunda, the idea of the work is to capture the light  under a passing cloud  the moment when Walt Whitman waited see to  Abraham Lincoln who rode past the corner of Vermont and L St., NW, en route to the White House from his “Summer Retreat” (in a different part of the city) in July of 1863.

The artwork is delightful, but it’s the thinking behind it which most captures my imagination, and has me think of the Singable Picture Book and song, “Both Sides Now.”

I took this picture of the Wall Text about the show “My Business, with the Cloud,”

Here’s what it says which, in my mind, relates to the song:
Brooklyn-based artist Spenser Finch (b. 1962), makes sculptural installations, drawings, and photographs that seek to capture the elusive space between individual perception and the outside world.  For this exhibition he continues an ongoing investigation into the intersections of art, nature, science, and memory.

…The installation in the Corcoran’s Rotunda represents a moment on a summers day in 1863 when Walt Whitman and Abraham Lincoln crossed paths.  The work recreates the light of a passing cloud at the corner of Vermont Avenue and L Street in Washington, D.C., where the poet watched for the president to ride by on horseback.  It explores the individual, changeable nature of experience and, ultimately, how such experiences become part of our collective history.

I think that captures a lot of what the song is about, exploring one’s own changeable perception of life’s experience over time.

And, the artwork literally gives you a chance to look at the cloud from all sides…where the “cloud” is an instance of interaction between two historical figures, you can consider the changes in the experience of our nation from 1863 to now, how we look at the world, each other, and our own lives, even if the light at a particular street corner, under a passing cloud, is exactly the same.  You can also consider instances of your own life experience and how you come to look at these events in a different light as your life and attitudes change.

Much of what Blake Gopnik wrote about the piece in the Washington Post (September 9, 2010) captures what is wonderful both about the work and could similarly be said about the song:

Another article about this artwork, here:

Information about the Corcoran Gallery installation and artist Spenser Finch:

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A list of SPBs with fun and sneakily educational content.  The kids won’t even know they’re learning!


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