The other day I was browsing through YouTube when I came across a recording of Joni Mitchell singing "California" which dates back to a BBC recording made in October 1970. Despite the fact that it is frightening to realise that this was almost forty years ago, the clip is well worth watching for two reasons. First the song has always been one of my favourite Joni Mitchell songs and it has the power to be so evocative of both time and place. Perhaps it's because in a few days I will be on a Grecian Isle - where I must make a point of learning the Goat Dance - but for whatever the reason the song just reached out to me.
The second reason to watch the clip is to see Joni Mitchell play the dulcimer. Until I watched this clip I don't think I had ever seen a dulcimer before, although - like all school kids of a certain age - I know of the instrument from having to recite Coleridge's Kubla Khan. Remember the lines and they will transport you back to a world of wooden top desks and exercise books.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
A little later comes the verse :
A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
I have no idea where Mount Abora is and - if my quick search on Google is anything to go by - neither has anyone else. But I don't really care, it is neither the fabled mount nor the sacred river that I am searching for. Granted, my chosen stimulants - real ale, malt whisky and the occasional Cuban cigar - are less powerful than those that Coleridge was fond of : but I just want a vision of a damsel with a dulcimer singing of California. Come to think of it, all I need is YouTube.