She was the Queen of Folk Music, Bob Dylan’s lover and is still a vision of loveliness
By Stephen Pate – Joan Baez is still proudly and beautifully singing out her songs of freedom after 57 years.
Joan Baez was captured in this photograph performing at the Palacio Euskaduna Jauregia, in Bilbao, Spain on March 17th, 2015 by photographer Dena Flows. Doesn’t she look radiant and engaged?
“If you have to put labels on me then first I am a human being, second a pacifist and then third a folk singer,” said Joan Baez in a 1960’s press conference. Unlike many artists, this generous and gracious singer has existed for her music, to serve others and to satisfy herself.
When Bob Dylan met Joan Baez in the early 1960’s, she was already the Queen of Folk Music. Her strong clear soprano voice introduced many people to the joy of folk music. Her presence was so important that we argued if Judy Collins or Carolyn Hester might better than Joan Baez.
Bob Dylan was an aspiring and struggling new artist when he met Joan Baez. He admits being impressed by her knowledge of folk music, guitar playing and singing. “I couldn’t play like that,” he said on the PBS special How Sweet The Sound
They became lovers, a love that over-lapped with the end of Dylan’s relationship with Suze Rotolo. Joan Baez took Dylan on her concert stages and introduced him to her huge audiences. She introduced Bob Dylan at Newport and every important place a folk artist could appear. Joan Baez was the inspiration for several Bob Dylan songs and with him when he wrote many others.
By 1964, folk music had peaked, killed by The Beatles and the essential monotony of everyone signing old songs and playing acoustic guitars. Protest songs had also peaked as the market turned to hedonism with fun and drugs, or drugs and fun depending on your mood.
In 1964 Bob Dylan was recording songs about personal relationships in Another Side of Bob Dylan. Soon Dylan would add electric guitars to his poetic flights of lyrical fancy and take music in an entirely new direction with Bringing It All Back Home.
Their relationship was fated to fail. A Queen can’t stay with a man who wants to be King and Bob Dylan wanted success. By late 1964 Dylan was already dating Sarah Lownds and would marry her in the fall of 1965, while winding down his relationship with Joan Baez.
Dylan invited Joan Baez on his electric tour of England from April to May 1965 but did not reciprocate by inviting Baez on stage with him. Now Dylan was the bigger star and he was less than magnanimous with his lover.
Baez might have seen the writing on the wall but she was still deeply smitten with Dylan as you can see in the scenes from D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary movie about the tour Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back .
She is obviously hurt by the “treatment”. In one scene Dylan allows his nasty sidekick Bob Neuwirth to horribly insult Joan Baez. She left the hotel room and caught a plane back to the United States.
It took Bob Dylan 44 years to apologize – I mean that’s no way to treat your lover, benefactor and a woman – on camera for How Sweet The Sound.
“I feel very bad about it,” Dylan said. “I was sorry to see our relationship end.”
Dylan makes several appearances in the PBS documentary with more revealing comments about his feelings towards Joan Baez.
Joan Baez got over her writer’s block and started writing her own songs in the late 60’s. By 1974 she had penned Diamonds & Rust, an excellent song that describes the love affair. The bittersweet pain of the affair still lingered.
“Now I see you standing
With brown leaves falling around
And snow in your hair
Now you’re smiling out the window
Of that crummy hotel
Over Washington Square
Our breath comes out white clouds
Mingles and hangs in the air
Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there.” (words and music copyright Joan Baez)
Joan Baez stayed true to her beliefs in political and social activism throughout her long career. She has been a tireless advocate for many causes and a tremendous performing artist.
Joan Baez still sings strong and true today and is a lifetime gift to her art and our lives.
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By Stephen Pate, NJN Network