Big Yellow Taxi

The final verse in Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” goes like this:
“Late last night I heard the screen door slam.
And a big yellow taxi took away my old man.”
Now, the rest of the song is a pretty straightforward little number about saving the environment that pretty much means what it says, until it gets to this last cryptic line. It’s obviously important since it’s the title of the song, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it means. What is the “big yellow taxi?” Who is the “old man?” Is it a metaphor for something? Help me out here, people, before I go insane. Thanks.

Old man is a metaphor for, well, her old man/hubby/live-in SO/whatever.

Big Yellow Taxi is a metaphor for, well, whatever vehicle said old man called to take him away from her.

The song is about appreciating what you have, and taking care of it, because if you don’t, you may lose it, and only then, when it’s too late, realize what a great thing you had.

I think that last part is what makes the song so great–it’s not just a one dimensional little dity about the enviroment. The way she compares it to something else seemingly unrelated is fantasitc. . . alomst poetic.

In the early 70’s, the story went round (for which I have no corroboration), the Big Yellow Taxi was the nickname given to Toronto police cruisers.

Joni Mitchell has said her song was inspired by a visit to Hawaii when she looked out her hotel window and saw a huge parking lot, below. I have no idea how that would connect to SOs being removed by Toronto constables.

I doubt that it refers to police cars. The song was about losing something irrevocably through your own fault–she treated her old man shitty and he left her, he wasn’t taken. I don’t get the impression that she was putting the responsibility for the environment on someone other than ourselves.

Back then, taxis were often big yellow Checkers cabs, a “stretched” version of the '56 Chevy.

In “An All Star Tribute to Joni Mitchell” shown on TNT in April, Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter do a rendition of “Big Yellow Taxi” and James Taylor joins in halfway through. When they get to the line about the big yellow taxi, Carpenter (IIRC) gestures to James Taylor and sings “a big yellow taxi took away this old man.” James Taylor pulls at his collar in feigned embarrassment and Joni stands and blows them a kiss when the song ends. James Taylor and Joni Mitchell were romantically involved at some point. Could he be the old man in the song?

BTW, a 1978 article from Stereo Review reported that James Taylor drove a yellow taxi, though it didn’t mention any connection to the song or Joni Mitchell.

In the early 1970s (and up until the late 1980s, if I recall correctly), Toronto police cars were indeed yellow. The police cars may well have been nicknamed “big yellow taxis,” but I cannot confirm it.