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“I didn’t want anyone to know it was me”: on being Joni Mitchell’s “Carey”

For 50 years, the “mean old daddy” immortalised in one of Mitchell’s best-loved songs has been an enigma. Now he tells his side of the story.

By Kate Mossman

This article was originally published on 17 December 2021, it is being repromoted today (7 November 2023) as Joni Mitchell celebrates her 80th birthday.

The wall of limestone caves along the cliff in the Cretan fishing village of Matala is now a protected site. In Roman times the caves were used as burial crypts, but when the hippies arrived in the late 1960s, they became free bunkhouses. Joni Mitchell, fresh from Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles and newly separated from the singer-songwriter Graham Nash, lived in one of these caves for two months between March and May 1970. It was during this period that she wrote songs for her 1971 album Blue, and here that she first performed one of her best-loved songs, “Carey”, dedicated to the man with whom she shared that cave.

Mitchell’s description of her muse is impressionistic, dispatched in two or three lines – “Oh Carey get out your cane”; “Oh, you’re a mean old daddy/But I like you” – yet he remains one of the most charismatic figures ever to appear in song. And, unlike the lovers who bookended his time in Mitchell’s affections (Nash and James Taylor), we know almost nothing about him.

There were casual latrines in the shrubland higher up the beach in Matala, and the hippies wove reeds together to make doors (“The wind is in from Africa/Last night I couldn’t sleep”). There were stoves and lanterns and kelim rugs, passed on to new owners each time a cave changed hands. For beds, the burial crypt itself inside the cave: a stone shelf a few feet wide. If you know that Joni Mitchell was sleeping on funerary architecture when she wrote “Carey” it brings new meaning to the lines “I miss my clean white linen/And my fancy French cologne.”

Today, the beach at Matala is still raked over in travel blogs by tourists smitten with the romance of the song. Like “Woodstock”, which Mitchell wrote without having been to the festival, it epitomised a hippie dream that lay out of reach for most, and which everyone thought – still thinks – sounded like paradise. Most ordinary people listening to Blue on its release hadn’t been to Greece or Amsterdam or Paris, or anywhere much, as no one could afford the flights.

Mark Ellen, former editor of QSmash Hits and the Word, hitchhiked to Matala in 1974 with his girlfriend with the express purpose of recreating “Carey”. He was one of many to do so. “To think that here she was, gloriously rootless and drifting through Europe was intoxicating,” he told me. “No song defined a moment like ‘Carey’. We all tried to have as much fun, and be as original and wildly poetic and romantic as Joni Mitchell and him. He didn’t just have a love affair with the woman all men would have loved to have had a love affair with: he lived the life they all dreamed of too.”

In fact, during the writing of Blue, Mitchell was having what she later referred to as a shamanic experience – and what others might just have called a nervous breakdown. When she’d arrived in Crete in 1970, with a female friend, she was on the cusp of fame, trying to figure out whether celebrity and art could exist side by side. In Matala she was free, but not invulnerable. This was the moment that Cary Raditz entered her life. (The spelling mistake was hers.)

As a child – and I can’t be the only one – I assumed “Carey” was some kind of ancient lover, a sort of sugar daddy, albeit one too tight to buy the drinks. For those of us who heard Mitchell’s songs via our parents in the Eighties and Nineties, their love story was part of an emerging sense of the sparks that occur between the sexes: “Let’s go down to the Mermaid Café/And I will buy you a bottle of wine/And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing/And smash our empty glasses down.” For men of Carey’s own generation, he was a handy archetype for the age of Aquarius: at the 40th birthday of a friend a few months back, the celebrant’s father – a saucy raconteur who’d done the Ibiza circuit in the Sixties – told me the real Carey was a guy he’d known in Formentera. He was wrong, but wouldn’t believe any other story.

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In many ways the song is surprisingly literal. Yes, there was a Mermaid Café, five minutes’ walk across the bay, run by Stelios Xagorarakis, who was in the cave when Mitchell played “Carey” for the first time (it was Raditz’s birthday). And yes, Carey carried a cane: a shepherd’s crook in fact, hooked at the top but smashed off half-mast. If we have an unusually strong impression of him, it’s because he also appears in the other single released from Blue – “California”:

“I met a redneck on a Grecian Isle 
Who did the goat dance very well,  
He gave me back my smile  
But he kept my camera to sell.  
Oh that rogue, that red red rogue,  
He cooked good omelettes and stews  
And I might have stayed on with him  
But my heart cried out for you, California.”

Over the years, Mitchell would introduce live versions of “Carey” with stories to enhance the rogue she had created. She recalled their first meeting: he was working as a chef at the Delphini Taverna in Matala; she approached him with some rubbish, in an attempt to clean up. He took it from her and threw it straight on the floor.

“I latched myself on to Cary because he was fierce and kept the crowd off my back,” she told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. “He was always detached and sometimes even disrespectful – either trying to belittle me or make me feel afraid. I think at the time he felt greatly superior to women, which is why I refer to him in the lyrics as ‘a mean old Daddy’.”

It’s a very small club, ordinary people who have inspired immortal songs. Suzanne, Marianne, Sharona, Peggy Sue. You will spend your whole life trapped in one, but you may never get the chance to tell your side of the story. In 50 years, Cary Raditz has barely spoken about his time in Crete with Joni Mitchell, and has never told the story of what happened afterwards. Each time I tried to talk to him he turned me down, saying he was working on a book, or promising he would travel to see friends in England when we would surely get together. Then, after Blue hit its 50th anniversary in June this year, he got in touch: he’d changed his mind.

Our meeting place, on a warm day at the end of October, was a small bistro in Paris near the Musée d’Orsay, five minutes from the Pont Royal that takes you to the Louvre. Raditz had been all over France in the previous three weeks with his wife Ann, whom he’d copied in on our email correspondence: Crestet, Provence; Avignon; Rochefort-en-Terre; and Douarnenez, Brittany – “mostly with old friends”.

Through the plastic window of the outdoor marquee, Cary Raditz, with long grey hair and a gold loop in his left ear, looks like a gypsy or a retired pirate, poised in the corner against the burgundy fabric, nose in a book. He seems slightly self-conscious, as though wondering if he is already being watched, which he is.

“And what a small, insignificant person he turned out to be!” he announces, standing.

He is 75, his voice soft and hoarse and liltingly southern. He orders lightly: a salade de raie, or warm skate salad, the fish shredded with a fork. Somewhere on his French trip he tried bigorneau for the first time, the tiny sea snails eaten with a pin. “Have you ever tried them?” he asks. “Well they’re not very good. And they’re not very easy to get at.” Raditz got at them with a nutcracker and was told he couldn’t get away with that in a restaurant. “Think about eating langoustine!” he countered. “What could be more inelegant?” He shifts quickly between amusement and a sense of mild unease. 

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Raditz was put out when Mitchell called him a redneck in “California”. His mother was a southern belle from South Carolina who could prove a direct descent back to the patriot fathers. His grandfather, a bank president, died when she was young, “leaving my grandmother with a nice portfolio which turned to mush as soon as the stock market crashed”. His mother worked as a teacher of English. “She read to me poetry when we would take our naps in the afternoon. She was very dramatic, and certainly I received directly the most potent narcissistic genes from her.”

Raditz’s father was the son of a concert pianist, Henrietta Herman, and a famous portrait painter, Lazar Raditz, who painted the Rockefellers (Lazar was the son of a rabbi from Latvia). His aunt was a famous child artist, Violetta Raditz, who had a show in the Met, New York. His father, in contrast, liked to say, “I don’t have a bone of talent in my whole body.”

“So from him I received nothing – because I don’t have a bone of talent in my own body! Pretty funny, huh!” he laughs, taking a mouthful of skate.  

This was the background from which Cary Raditz set out upon the world. After college in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he had moved in the same circles as James Taylor, he was writing advertising copy for an agency selling hosiery when a girlfriend over in Munich sent him a hundred dollar bill. Icelandair did flights to Luxembourg for $150 back then; once in Europe, he hitchhiked to Germany, where he lived with his female patron in an abandoned furniture factory, making money as an extra in a TV show (they played the part of “hippies”, with floppy hats, for DM50 a day).

As autumn of 1969 came, they decided to head to warmer territory. “Believe me,” Raditz says, “if we kept going at this pace we would be here a long time.” 

At a fork on the autobahn south of Munich, they opened it to fate. If the first car to arrive was travelling to the south-east, they’d end up in Greece. If it was heading south-west, they’d go to Spain – and Cary Raditz and I would not be talking. At this point, the girlfriend seems to melt away from the story. He was 23 years old.

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Like many romantic unions, there were two or three random collisions between Mitchell and Raditz before the one that brought them together. Having settled into a cave on Halloween, Raditz was indeed working as a chef at the Delphini Taverna: Greek omelettes were his speciality: potatoes and onions spooned into a hot frying pan and flipped with a jerk of the handle.

“She came into my taverna mid-morning,” he says. “I don’t know what I was doing, cooking, cleaning up – surrounded by four or five sycophants, fawning ex-friends of mine.” He was rattled by the buzz around Mitchell in a way that still resonates. She did bring some trash to help him with his cleaning job: he did take it from her and throw it on the floor. 

Did he know her music?

“Yeah, but I didn’t give a shit. Quite frankly, I didn’t know anything about her,” he says. “I just saw that she was coming into town. And these friends of mine, who I thought were pretty good drinking buddies, were now turning into the idiots that I didn’t like – the love and peace hippies, the nonsense involving all sorts of belief systems.”  

Why did that bother him?

“Because it was inauthentic.”

Did he not have friends?

His demeanour, he replies, was “don’t fuck with this guy, he will bite your head off”.

Raditz wore heavy Afghan salwar kameez trousers in those days and had his red hair in a turban. Mitchell said that she saw him propelled from the door of the Delphini one day, by a propane explosion. He tells me that nursing his seared face a few days later, he got wind that she had been sighted in the Roman baths on the other side of the hill: the Romans had dug rectangular troughs that filled with seawater at high tide and warmed into “hot tubs” in the sun. He saw Mitchell there in a yellow bathing suit: most people were naked. She approached him with a piece of driftwood, saying, “Look, it looks just like a mermaid!” He took it and replied, “Looks like a piece of driftwood to me.” 

“Do you know what a mystical experience is?” he says, apropos of nothing. Raditz explains that when he arrived in Crete, he was “coming off one”. Then he just calls it a bad trip – the lingering ghost of a drug experience that occurred a year earlier in San Francisco. 

Raditz’s behaviour – his “flaming red personality”, as she once put it – drew Mitchell to him. “I think this had something to do, psychologically or spiritually, with my relationship with Joni, in that we were both going through dark nights of the soul,” he says.  

Did he know, at the time, that he was going through a “dark night of the soul”? 

“No, I didn’t, I thought I was crazy.” 

For a moment, he doesn’t look comfortable. 

“It’s funny because there is a lot about this I don’t like,” he says. “There is something about celebrity in general – it is dangerous territory. It’s addictive though, you see. It’s awful. It’s a facet of greed.”

Mitchell painted a picture of a wild man, a joker: how did he see himself at the time? He gives his answers as bullet points.

“I felt I might be criminally insane. I had a really bad temper. I felt I had come-and-go powers of insight and perspective. I felt somewhat like a chameleon. I felt tremendously passionate. A lust for things, for women, that was overpowering.”  

He orders dessert – a small ball of vanilla ice cream with cassis drizzled over the top. 

Their final meeting ended his hostility towards Joni Mitchell. There was an evening ritual in Matala: watching the sun go down over the tiny islands that lay beyond the bay. The sun would appear to set, and then reappear again in some trick of the light. Raditz was watching this phenomenon from the wall of Delphini’s when Mitchell approached him. 

“Alone without anybody trailing around her, she came and she sat down next to me.” He claims to have recited Shelley’s “To Night”, which sounds entirely probable, “and after that, the only logical thing to say was, do you want to go and get a drink?”

[See also: The limits of black and white thinking]

The Mermaid Café smelled of coffee, apple pie, sautéing onions, stale beer and tobacco smoke. That night, it was full of shepherds and soldiers drinking the powerful Cretan drink, raki. One soldier went up to Mitchell with a box of Benson & Hedges cigarettes – “a treasure in those days before the global supermarket,” Raditz says. She didn’t want one because she already had a lit cigarette hanging out of her mouth, having smoked since she was nine. But she didn’t know how to refuse.

“And she’s going, ‘No, thank you! No, thank you’”, he says, “and I think, this is getting to be hilarious, because in Crete, when you give someone an affirmation with your head, it’s like this [he tips his head forward a little], and a no is like this [a vigorous backwards]. So she’s doing this mixed signal to the guy, and she says, ‘What can I do?’

“I said, ‘Knock them out of his hand!’ So she goes like that – [he brings his flat palm upward through the air] – “hits the box, cigarettes explode in the air and all over the place, and the taverna becomes silent. And then she just opens up with this incredible laugh from the depths of her womb or some other cavity, and I think if you ask me if I fell in love – I fell in love then, I fell in love with that laugh and where the laugh was coming from.”

Mitchell woke up in the cave after her first night with Cary Raditz with the heel of her shoe broken. She moved her things in from the small hut she was renting nearby. There wasn’t room for both of them to sleep together, he recalls: they took turns in the tomb, with the other sleeping on blankets on the floor.

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With him, Raditz says, people stopped following Mitchell around so much: “No one would come into my cave uninvited.”

Courtesy of Cary Raditz

Mitchell remembered her Crete period in a 1979 interview with Rolling Stone: “At that period of my life, I had no personal defenses,” she said. “I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defenses there either.”  

She may not have been happy, but she was open. Raditz thinks, “To her, I think I played the role of tempter, challenging her to think boldly. To bite the apple.” In the US, she was still a folk singer – Judy Collins’s version of “Both Sides Now” was better known than her own. She travelled to Europe with an Appalachian dulcimer, bought from the Big Sur Folk Festival, and built by a woman called Joellen Lapidus. It was slim, like an elongated violin, with sound holes shaped like columbine flowers and a case lined in Navajo sheepskin. Lapidus tells me how, when the strings broke, Mitchell restrung the instrument with the bass string in the middle – her own idiosyncratic tuning, which also marked out her guitar playing. She would hit the instrument with a “slap strum”, using the fleshy side of her hand. You can hear it on “Carey” and three other songs on BlueLadies of the Canyon, with its hit songs “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock”, was released around the time she was in Crete. She was rapidly becoming a star.

Raditz had an entrepreneurial streak: he had noticed the fine quality leather used on the island to make the knee-high jackboots the shepherds wore – and he went into business with a fellow cave-dweller, making sandals. These sandals form a large part of our conversation because Raditz is a strange, sensual character – he thinks in fabrics, food, textures, smells, sex. 

When she wasn’t playing her dulcimer, he tells me, Mitchell spent a lot of time knitting: “I want to knit you a sweater/Want to write you a love letter,” she wrote in “All I Want”. She did knit a sweater for James Taylor a few months later – a mark of the domesticity she’d slip into, intermittently, before each bid for freedom. While she was with Raditz, she knitted one for herself. It stretched right to the knees, and he describes how she incorporated bits of beach grass, tiny shells and bleached fishbones to create textures, and spun tufts of green yarn into the tan background.  

The “ecosystem sweater of Matala”, he calls it.  

“How splendid, I thought! She never stops singing, laughing, making music, drawing, creating things, in praise of her friends, her surroundings, her emotions and feelings.” 

They were together constantly, for two months. One day, they drove Mitchell’s rented VW to Crete’s capital, Iraklion, where they had boots made by a local craftsman – hers in tan and his in darker leather; she is wearing them on the cover of For the Roses, the album that followed Blue. They also commissioned matching gold heart stud earrings, with a swoop of thin metal falling under the lobe.

Raditz recalls a trip to Athens that told him it was ending. One night at dinner, Mitchell was approached by journalists. “I felt, I guess, a moment of jealousy. I was ready to beat them with the cane. But she invited them, gave me the bad eye, and just asked them to come and sit down and talk, and I guess that’s where I realised that the world had now intruded – that there was a shift.”  

A shift that she was now ready to take? 

“That was the change in her whole life, you see,” he says. “Really, after this time of weeks had gone by, this is when she really changed her whole life, from being somewhat at the effect of other people, to becoming the cause herself.”

At points Raditz seems to have a grasp of Mitchell’s inner life, then undercuts it. I ask him what he thought of her comment that he felt superior to women. He replies that she was frequently upset; recalls how she would sink into depressions, “dark, self-deprecating spaces”, to which he would respond, “Buck up Joan, stop whining.” (Incidentally, Mitchell told her biographer David Yaffe that her mother reacted to her depression in pretty much the same terms.)

During their short relationship, he effectively had her for himself. But on the night of his 24th birthday in April 1970, with half a dozen other people present, she played him the song that told him she was leaving him. Raditz talks about the smell of the cave and the taste of the ouzo that night, but what did he think of the song?

“I thought it was an endearing little ditty,” he says.

And what did he think of being called a “mean old daddy”?

“I wasn’t thrilled. I deserved it for my grumpiness, my unsolicited advice, talking down to her, and for my bad temper and general nastiness.” 

How has it felt, being frozen in a song for his whole life?  

“It is eerie,” he concedes, “for 50 years, having this song pop up in the most unusual kind of places, in taxis, as musak in an elevator, in a bar in the Hilton hotel in Abu Dhabi, being played on stage by the band. People who didn’t know it was about me would sing it at me when they realised Cary was my name.” 

Was it hard to take, everyone thinking, from the song, that Joni Mitchell dumped him? 

“Oh, she dumped me!” he cries. “She dumped me and then she picked me back up! What do we call people who go into dumpsters and pull out trash and use it again?” 

The relationship between Cary Raditz and Joni Mitchell did not end with “Carey”, or “California”, which she wrote in Paris shortly after leaving him. A few weeks later, around June 1970, he says he received a telex, sent to him courtesy of the Mermaid Café: it ran something to the effect of: “Join me Hollywood. Stop. Pick up ticket American Express, Athens. Stop. Telephone. Stop. XXX Joni.”  

Raditz left most of his belongings with cave neighbours and travelled to Athens where he called Mitchell from a youth hostel, waiting the ten hours’ time difference for 2pm, her waking hour. A ticket was waiting for him at the Athens office of Trans World Airlines, she said: she would meet him at San Francisco Airport. He took his shepherd’s crook as he boarded the first-class plane. 

Mitchell had returned to her place on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon to write and record Blue: recording sessions would feature a supergroup of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and James Taylor.

Raditz pushes aside his empty ice cream bowl as though he’s getting to the good stuff.

“When we were living together in Hollywood, I was totally out of place,” he says. “Bewildered and angry that I had even persuaded myself that this was a good thing to do. That I had succumbed to this weakness to follow her back to California.”

He drank so much champagne on the flight there, he says, that he arrived inarticulate, an “idiot drunkard”, barely able to speak. Mitchell met him wearing her Matala eco-sweater. Raditz was glad he had brushed his teeth.

What happened during their month together?

“It was very difficult. She was very sweet. She did what she could. We would go up to David Geffen’s to swim,” he says, of the media mogul who managed Joni’s label and went on to set up DreamWorks with Steven Spielberg. “And she would introduce me to her friends, like Jackson Browne. They would come by the house to look at the gorilla she had just freed from the zoo.” He imitates her celebrity friends, aghast: “What is she doing! Is she in her right mind? Is there something we can do to protect her? My god, he carries a knife! Joni used to tell me, ‘Geffen is really afraid of you…’”

Why did he feel so out of place?

“All of a sudden I was this kept man,” he says. “I don’t mind being a kept man but I want to be a kept man with some kind of mission and purpose.”

Raditz recalls Crosby, Stills and Nash coming over together one day and sitting opposite him like “three brass monkeys”. Though he and Mitchell were a couple, he suspects he may also have been a foil.

“I protected her from unwanted attention in Matala, and now I am running interference to shield her from the unwanted attention of her ex-lover and his buddies in California,” he suggests.

Mitchell’s manager Elliot Roberts, who passed away in 2019, took Raditz to Disneyland and the Hollywood Bowl. “But it was all clearly falling apart. She was into her Joni Mitchell thing. Which is a semi-trance state – for hours she would be there at the piano.” Graham Nash also spoke of this songwriting trance state. What would the gorilla do while the mystic was at work?

“Read. Watch her. Wouldn’t fuck with her. She was really a different kind of being. And I didn’t have anything to do. I collapsed into my own angst and spent most of the day reading philosophy and worrying.”

One person who remembers Raditz in Hollywood at that time was Joellen Lapidus, Mitchell’s dulcimer maker. “When I met him he was a rough and tough mountain man,” she tells me. “But when I got talking to him, I learned that he was highly educated. He was so gutsy and raw and authentic, and true to himself, like no one I had ever met.”

Raditz broke one of her dulcimers while helping to carry it. “I can never tell whether he did it on purpose,” she says. “He had that nasty side.”

Did Raditz leave Mitchell, or did Mitchell leave him?

“She didn’t actually use her foot to kick me out of the car when she took me to the airport but she was close to it – I’m not sure we were actually talking by that point,” Raditz says, grinning broadly. But he left the cane behind in her house.

Raditz tells me that Mitchell allowed him to cash in his first-class ticket (tellingly, she had brought him a round trip) so he could travel steerage class to wherever he went next, and save some money. He headed to England, where he contacted friends from the Crete era and ended up working on a dairy farm. A few weeks later, during a trip to London, he walked to an American Express office to cash a traveller’s cheque and found a letter from Mitchell’s manager at the postal window. Calling him from a phone booth, Raditz learned that Mitchell wanted his company at the Isle of Wight Festival on 29 August 1970. He can be seen fleetingly in backstage footage in the recent concert film Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now, with flaming hair and stunned expression. He pulled up in the same vintage Rolls Royce that brought Mitchell, Elliot Roberts and Neil Young on to the festival site.  

The documentary captures the chaos of the festival and its crowd, notoriously on the verge of riot. Mitchell, with her “feminine cooperative streak” (her words) agreed to go out early, at 3pm, to pacify them, and only got through it by appealing for their respect. Looking out of the festival crowd was like “looking out over the armies of Caesar before the invasion”, Raditz recalls. He got very drunk that night and entered Donovan’s trailer demanding drugs: he says Mitchell put him in bed to sleep it off.

Was his relationship with her a friendship by this point?

“We don’t quite know what to call it,” he says. “I like Joan. She’s good company unless she’s in one of her states. Then she’s not.”

And why does he think their love affair didn’t work out?  

“It did work out.” 

Were you in love with each other? 

“The way we behaved toward each other from time to time is we were very close, we cared about each other’s interests, and we cared about each other’s feelings, and we were, I think, mutually attracted to one another…”

So why did it end?

“I think that was all played out in LA,” he says. “I mean, if you were going to ask Graham Nash he would say he was deeply in love with her. Certainly, I expressed love to her. He was clingy: he was clingy to her, and that’s what I think freaked her out.”

A few weeks after the Isle of Wight Festival, back working on the farm, Raditz tells me he was again summoned to London: Mitchell requested his company at the London Palladium, on 23 October, where James Taylor was playing. He arrived at the venue early and drank heavily again. She came out to meet him before the show. “She wanted to tell me in person that she was in love with James Taylor,” he says. During their month in Laurel Canyon, Raditz had pulled the free poster that accompanied Taylor’s new album, Sweet Baby James, out of the record sleeve and stuck it above her piano: “Though I don’t know the degree of their propinquity at that point,” he says.

After watching the show, he stayed with Taylor and Mitchell at the Warner Brothers apartment in Knightsbridge. After this, in one of the strangest twists in Cary Raditz’s story, a brief kind of platonic threesome appears to have occurred for several weeks in the autumn of 1970, whereby Mitchell and Taylor – newly in love – were often accompanied by Raditz – at their request, he swears. Mitchell can be heard giving a shout-out to her “friend from Matala, London and Los Angeles and North Carolina” at the Paris Theatre on Regent Street, six days after Taylor’s Palladium show.

“This was not any Jules et Jim ménage à trois hell,” he says. “It wasn’t like that. I don’t know what it was, other than this kind of friendship. I didn’t have any kind of lingering jealousy.” 

Still, he is unable to explain quite why he was there. He accompanied them to the wedding of Taylor’s producer Peter Asher, and to music industry dinners. He would go to late night pubs with Taylor, and drink copious amounts of the Italian liqueur Strega. He was afraid to ask why James was hanging out with him so much, he says, “in case it stopped”. 

Mitchell, Taylor and Raditz came back to the US together after the UK shows, and settled in the Albert Hotel near Washington Park, New York. “It was all a puzzle,” Raditz says. “I had a separate room, always. I was never interested in watching them copulate.”

One day, he went to visit his grandmother, the concert pianist, who was living over on 6th Avenue and 8th Street. Taylor and Mitchell accompanied him, bringing their guitars, and played for her. Once again he would “read, listen, prowl the streets”, while the musicians worked.

“And then we moved up to Martha’s Vineyard together, and so I had my own room in a motel. James was building his house, so it was in an early state: it had a roof on, and the walls were open inside, with table saws and carpentry equipment…” 

Around Thanksgiving 1970, Mitchell’s manager Elliot Roberts appears to have got rid of Cary Raditz. Raditz tells me Roberts said that the pair felt crowded by his constant presence, which he contested, pointing out that he had always been invited. He wonders again whether he was “some kind of buffer” to deflect publicity about the new celebrity relationship: “Joni has a Macchiavellian streak,” he says. Roberts gave him a job – to oversee his farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but he was soon fired for mismanagement. He tried to connect with Mitchell and Taylor when they visited Taylor’s parents in North Carolina, but they never returned his calls.  

Raditz didn’t talk to Mitchell for a while after that. He joined the American Peace Corps and went out to build pump stations in Mauritania: “I wanted something that gave me the nomadic lifestyle – but with medical back-up and stuff like that.”

Mitchell called him in 1978, after she travelled to Mexico with a dying Charlie Mingus: “She talked through that with me, and how thrilled she was to have worked with him. She’s still kind of working through that, I think. I just imagine, in her instincts, that in the great hall of jazz, that there’s an empty podium there that her statue should be on!” he says sarcastically. “That’s the arena of her fame, she should be there, not in folk singing or rock’n’roll.” 

He studied development banking and went on to become an economic development consultant in Zambia. As the Eighties began, he became a Park Avenue banker in New York, working for the Middle East and Africa division of Chemical Bank. In Greece, he had lived “as though I had taken a vow of poverty”. In a few years, he went from riding camels, to helicopters and limousines: Chemical Bank settled the first asset claims with Iran in 1983 – he still has the braces he bought to celebrate, printed with dollar signs.

Mitchell wrote about big-wig financiers in her 1985 album Dog Eat Dog, which was critical of Reagan-era economics: “Some are treated well/In these games of buy and sell/And some like poor beasts/Are burdened down to breaking”. During this time, she would come to meet Raditz for lunch at the Chemical Bank office at 277 Park Avenue. Her “poor and untalented ex-boyfriend” – his words – had made something of himself. 

One Sunday, after dim sum in Chinatown with Mitchell and some of her photographer friends, Raditz started to come down with the flu. Mitchell took him back to her Greenwich Village loft apartment on Spring Street and Varick where he lay sweating in blankets on the sofa for at least two days. Not for the first time he outstayed his welcome with Joni Mitchell – and not for the first time, she eventually kicked him to the kerb. 

They are still in touch. He flew to see her for his 72nd birthday, where they had dinner with Stelios of the Mermaid Café, and he showed her pages of a draft edition of his book, for which he is trying to find a publisher. Her assistant is generally present. A “gatekeeper” he says: Joni Mitchell has had three strokes. “It is difficult to talk to her these days.” Mitchell’s interviews, rarer than comets, take place with carefully selected writers, and I did not contact her myself. She has told the story of Carey before – her way.

You get the feeling that Raditz is not even sure quite what he is, in Joni Mitchell’s story. Muse? Security guard? Buffer? Lover? Hanger-on? Or was their continued connection through the years – her, the high priestess of songwriting, him, married with three “overachieving” children – really a link back to a pivotal moment in their freewheeling past; less about love, more about some portal on to who and what they were when they met? 

Having made a decision to talk at length after 50 years, Raditz remains in touch after our Paris meeting, sending me photos and extracts of poetry, his wife no longer copied into our emails. “You get in touch and tell me you’ve been thinking about this guy since you were a child – do you know what kind of licence that gives me?” he says over lunch.  

Mitchell gave him an identity at 24: it may not have been the real one, but it was so evocative that millions of people over the world have wondered about him. He will live out that fictional identity for the rest of his life, and far beyond it. “Songs are like tattoos,” Mitchell said on Blue: having one written about you is immortality and fiction rolled into one. He may find himself addicted to the interest it generates, but then again, he didn’t ask for it to happen.

Did he ever wish “Carey” had never been written? 

“Yes,” he says. “For many years. I never talked about it. I didn’t want anyone to know it was me. Because all they wanted to talk about was my relationship with her.”  

Raditz experienced the real Joni Mitchell, too, at one point in time – in the most tumultuous, intense and fast-changing era of her life, when it’s almost impossible to say who she was in love with, who she had met and what she was writing; the chronologies continue to blur with each passing year. After leaving Graham Nash, she chose the opposite of domestication on the floor of a cave in Matala, but her new protector became possessive in his way. No one could have Mitchell for long. He met her vulnerability, and he met the steeliness beneath it. Who knows why she wanted him around as her career progressed, unless he, indeed, represented some kind of audacity she wanted to keep in touch with. Maybe she kept in touch because, on some level, she felt she owed him for the songs. Maybe she really liked him.

“I was just there, you know, who knows?” he concludes. “I can’t get into this counterfactual stuff. I was there.” He is not very self-analytical.  

Why is he talking to me, after 50 years? 

“Well, I spent a lot of my time in Buddhist retreats,” he grins. “And I’ve spent many years trying to work to free myself from the confines of my ego, and lately I’ve realised there isn’t much beyond my ego. I’ve come down to: what’s the amusement value. Are people amused? I would tell the story to musicians who would have an appreciation of it. But I dislike being pinned down.”  

How does he feel now when he hears the song? 

“I’ve become distanced somewhat from this character ‘Carey’,” he says, “and Carey can live out his variant forms in the minds of people without bothering me too much. And maybe it’s a way of self-protecting, but this idea of self is really very delusional.” 

Oh, and he didn’t steal Joni Mitchell’s camera, as you’re led to believe in “California”. She gave it to him when she left Greece. He said he’d probably have to sell it. She shrugged and said, go ahead.

Read more from Kate Mossman here.

Photo by Julia Rendleman for the New Statesman

[See also: Corporate culture is ruining live music]

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This article appears in the 05 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Johnson's Last Chance