Music and Cocktails: Life’s Illusions

In 1967, Joni Mitchell wrote a little song called “Both Sides, Now” that was recorded that year by Judy Collins and would go on to be covered over 1000 times by an extensive range of artists. If that’s not relevance then I surely don’t know the meaning of the word. Most recently Kristian Matson from The Tallest Man on Earth chose to include it in an episode of his “The Light in Demos” video series, in which he refers to it as “the best song in the world.” I’ve included a link to his video at the bottom of this post. Mitchell herself recorded the song in 1969 as a track on Clouds, her second album, and revisited it in 2000 for Both Sides Now. The difference in her voice between the two recordings is amazing, and it was the very thing that added further significance to the lyrics for me. And, of course, who can ever forget the moment it’s played in the film Love Actually when Emma Thompson fights so hard to keep herself together? I rewatched the scene for this post and cried all over again.

The lyrics for “Both Sides, Now” are not hard to interpret. We’ve all heard them and felt their meaning a million times. We begin life as children who view things like clouds through innocent eyes. We really do see “ice cream castles” and “feathered canyons,” until we realize that clouds are responsible for rain, snow, and for blocking the sun. Later in the song, Mitchell removes the metaphor entirely and speaks directly about love and life with the same sense of retrospection. Although she was incredibly self-aware at age 24 to have known it, her interpretation of the understanding we gain as time goes on is the aspect of the song that moves us so much. I’ve always found it to be sad and a bit depressing. Clouds, love, and life are all mercurial things, with two very distinct sides. Clouds can be beautiful, but they can also be problematic. Love and life can bring moments of profound happiness, but they can also disappoint and deeply hurt us. We do form illusions about all three, but are we to believe that those illusions are all we’ll remember, and that in the end we’ve learned nothing more?

In researching this post I discovered something that gave me new insight and a different way of looking at the lyrics. The original title of the song contained a comma that was put there by Joni Mitchell and removed by Judy Collins. If we say that we’ve looked at something from “both sides now,” there is a sense of finality in the words, and an inference that there is nothing more for us to learn. In the end we’re left with what we thought we knew. However, if we say that we’ve looked at that same thing from “both sides, now,” the meaning changes. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The sense of finality is gone. We’re still looking. We may feel as though we’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand, and we’re not quite there yet, but it’s because there will always be so much to learn from both our illusions and our reality. We don’t know everything about clouds, but we should turn our heads up to look at them every day. We don’t know everything about love, but we should never stop believing in what our hearts say it can be. And we don’t know everything about life, but our desire to keep trying to figure it all out should be what makes us hold onto it as fiercely as we can.

The idea of looking at something from both sides was a fairly easy one for me to apply towards making today’s cocktail. The most basic sour recipe goes something like this: 2 oz base spirit, ½ oz secondary spirit, ¾ oz sweet ingredients, ¾ oz sour ingredients, and maybe some bitters if needed. I’ve always felt as though a Collins drink is really just an extension of a sour with something bubbly added on top. I also tend to think of Collins drinks as summery, but I wanted this one to be full of fall flavors to continue the theme of summer transitioning to autumn. I needed a very traditional, yet local, gin as my base so I went with Liberty from Palmer Distilling in Manayunk. It’s made from an old Dutch recipe with only six ingredients and was the perfect choice for this cocktail. For my secondary spirit, I decided on St. Elizabeth Dram because it’s full of fall spices, but has a distinct herbal streak to it as well. Once I had these ingredients in place, I was able to to look on either side and add lemon juice as my sour ingredient and a maple simple syrup as my sweet. There was still something missing so I went with one dash of Bittercube Blackstrap bitters to add some molasses and cinnamon, and DRAM Palo Santo bitters to bring in smoke and vanilla and a little bit of woodsiness that tied back to the gin. And when it comes to seeking knowledge or insight I can never resist using bitters from a wood that is supposed to help bring visions! Finally, I topped the drink with a pumpkin kombucha that’s made right here in Haddonfield. The end result was a cocktail that had the refreshing feel of summer, but it gave way to the flavors of fall. It was the ultimate illusion. Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!

Life’s Illusions

2 oz Liberty Gin from Palmer Distilling, Manayunk. PA
½ oz St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram
¾ oz maple simple syrup
¾ oz lemon juice
1 dash Bittercube Blackstrap bitters
1 dash DRAM Palo Santo bitters
3 oz Pine Coast Pumpkin Kombucha from A Secret Garden, Haddonfield NJ

Add all the ingredients except the kombucha to a shaker tin with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a tall Collins glass over ice. Top with the kombucha. Enjoy!

Watch The Tallest Man on Earth video here.

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