Tom Hanks Has an 'Unspoken Rule' When It Comes to Joni Mitchell's Music: Don't Change the Station

"I'm not the hippest dude in the world, but I knew great stuff when it came along," the actor told PEOPLE about hearing songs like"Big Yellow Taxi" for the first time

Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty; Rodin Eckenroth/Getty

Tom Hanks admits he doesn’t always have his finger on the pulse when it comes to music — but he knows Joni Mitchell is a classic.

The actor, 62, was among the many famous music lovers to pay tribute to the legendary singer/songwriter for her 75th birthday on Wednesday at the JONI 75: A Birthday Celebration Live event in Los Angeles. It was a rare public appearance for Mitchell, who suffered a brain aneurysm in 2015 and last stepped out at a James Taylor concert in June.

“I’m not the hippest dude in the world, but I knew great stuff when it came along,” Hanks told PEOPLE about hearing songs like”Big Yellow Taxi” for the first time.

“There was an unspoken rule that you didn’t change the station when Joni Mitchell stuff came on, whether you dug it or not. Whether you had a lot of house plants or not. Whether you wore a macrame belt or not, you did not change the station on Joni Mitchell,” the You Are My Friend star quipped.


The two-time Oscar winner — who attended the event with wife Rita Wilson and joked to PEOPLE, “I couldn’t score with women until I met her” — also recalled one of his earliest memories hearing Mitchell’s songs.

“I remember very distinctly, you know, that famous Dick Cavett Show … we would stay up late at night because Johnny Carson didn’t have Sly and the Family Stone. They didn’t have Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix on, Dick Cavett did,” Hanks said. “[Then] here was this angel from Canada playing dulcimer on her lap. Her voice was hypnotically special. I’d never heard anything like it, and kind of like, from that moment, there was this concept of Joni, it’s a one-word name. How many great artists can get by with just their first name? Elvis, Joni, Cher, Prince.”

Hanks also lauded Mitchell as being one of the greatest musicians of all time.

“As long as Beethoven lasts, there’ll be Joni Mitchell,” he said. “I’m in awe of a great cultural power that I just bow down and humbly submit before because there is something of a huge, important magnitude there that is never gonna go away.”

Rodin Eckenroth/Getty

Joining Hanks in the multi-generational audience were Mandy Moore, Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Tomlin, Jon Hamm and Angela Bassett, who all watched and cheered on performers James Taylor, Rufus Wainwright, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall and Graham Nash.

Among the performers, Seal was especially impressive, drawing the first big standing ovation of the night with his dramatic take on Mitchell’s classic “Both Sides Now.”

Other standouts in a series of terrific performances were Rufus Wainwright who sang her hits “Blue” and “All I Want” while James Taylor performed a terrifically moody rendition of “Woodstock.” Mitchell’s former beau Graham Nash performed his own composition “Our House,” which he wrote for her when they were in their early 20s.

At the end of the star-studded concert, all the performers gathered onstage for a group rendition of Mitchell’s classic, “Big Yellow Taxi.”

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