Moments with Joan Baez

If you listen to old white men, nostalgia means (among other things) a sentimental longing for the days when women were under their thumb; when gays, immigrants and people of color could be openly disparaged and discriminated against without consequence; and when our social, political and media culture constantly reinforced their dominion over all. They want those days back, regardless of what it means to anyone else.

I’m nostalgic for the 1960s, because that’s when I first learned to RESIST the things those old white men cherished. It’s also when I learned what it meant to “identify” with something. It was a time so powerful that it shaped the world view I would keep for all my days. I planted my flag on the side of the resistance. Civil rights, Stonewall, birth control, draft resisters. The massive March on Washington against the Vietnam War. Those beliefs defined me. But I was only 14, and isolated in a suburb of Pittsburgh. There weren’t many opportunities for a kid like me to actually participate in the generational rebellion. But in my room with the door closed, there was protest music.

One of those voices of the 1960s was more beautiful than all the others — Joan Baez. Fifty years later, it still is. And fifty years later, Joan Baez is still a righteous, principled, lover of humankind. She’s on her farewell tour now, and I was honored to see her concert last night in Nashville. These are some of the moments that I savor:

  • Never underestimate the enormity of a petite, 77-year-old woman.
  • When she played Woodstock in August 1969, she was five months pregnant with her son, Gabe. He was her drummer last night.
  • I recently read that she couldn’t sing “Amazing Grace” anymore, that it was too hard on her voice. So she sang “The President Sang Amazing Grace” instead. *sob*
  • I was surprised to learn that “Hello in There,” made famous by Bette Midler, was written by John Prine. He also wrote the wonderful “Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train.” I was delighted that she introduced Prine, who was in the audience.
  • One of my favorite songs in college was “Diamonds and Rust,” which she wrote to chronicle her early 60s relationship with Bob Dylan. It has a line that goes, Ten years ago I bought you some cufflinks. She got a laugh last night singing, Fifty years ago I bought you some cufflinks.
  • At the first encore she said she usually didn’t sing this song anymore … bus since she was in Dixie — “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”
  • The second encore, Paul Simon’s “The Boxer.” Especially poignant on her farewell tour for this line: I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains. Who else gets a standing ovation in the middle of a song? *sob*
  • Third encore, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” And the end she sang, Coming for to carry me … you … us … them … even Donald … home.
  • *

    I blog this today because writing it down makes it last longer. I hope you feel as fortified by Joan Baez as I do.

    4 Responses to “Moments with Joan Baez”

    1. Thank you for your posting. 50+ years ago I worked doing the books for a shoe store owned by a wonderful dear man who loved Joan Baez. All alone in the back room, I would listen to his tapes of her songs over and over. The sound of her voice and theme of her music has been with me all these years.

    2. I do. Thank you.

    3. Thank you for sharing the details so we can enjoy the experience 💓


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