SFTW chats to Joan Baez
By SIMON COSYNS
Published: 12 Sep 2008
SHE bravely stood shoulder to shoulder with civil rights hero Martin
She introduced Bob Dylan and his searing protest songs to the world
(and became his lover).
She sang her heart out at Woodstock and entranced half a million
hippies. She stood by Nelson Mandela's side as he celebrated his 90th
During her 50-year career, Joan Baez has allied the purest of voices
to deep and abiding humanity.
She has railed against racism, the death penalty, wars in Vietnam,
Iraq and Afghanistan, always with grace and humility.
Now she's made one of the records of her life, produced by her
equally political "soulmate" Steve Earle in Nashville with an ace band.
Day After Tomorrow, her 28th studio album, bears masterful
interpretations of songs by Tom Waits (the title track), Elvis
Costello (The Scarlet Tide), Thea Gilmore (The Lower Road) and three
songs by Earle.
Joan doesn't hit so many high notes now but she makes up for it with
sincerity, tenderness and style.
Here the singer, 67, tells SIMON COSYNS about the album and her life
HOW does it feel to have been in music for 50 years?
It's crazy. When I started, it was a perfect storm. Folk music began
to emerge at the same time as political actions. They were natural
companions that started to morph into each other.
How do you remember the early Newport Folk Festivals?
I was terrified the first time I played Newport. It was a huge deal
and I can feel my knees knocking just thinking about it. I had never
seen that many people at one concert 13,000. I was overwhelmed and
then I opened my mouth and a song came out. It was wonderful.
You became a voice of your generation. How did it affect you?
It's hard to say what an 18-year-old was thinking. When I see footage
of myself, I'm constantly blabbing which means I felt as though I had
something to say. Whether I did or not, I'm not sure! But I fell into
that role pretty easily.
What did you think of the young Bob Dylan?
He was pretty extraordinary. I guess somebody said: "There's this guy
you gotta hear, he's writing these incredible songs." And he was. I
think he made up the stuff while he was singing, it was just amazing.
It was a piece of good luck that his music came along when it did.
The songs said the things I wanted to say.
You still sing Dylan songs. Are they relevant?
It was demoralising when Bush took over and it became time to start
singing those songs again. I didn't do them for years because they
were just nostalgia, but then they suddenly have a meaning again. One
of them is With God On Our Side.
Has the Bush era invigorated your career?
It has. I was always the most relevant when I was combining music and
Are you excited about the possibility of a black president?
I'm excited about the idea of Obama himself, whatever it is he does.
If it had been Colin Powell, I would not have felt the same way. But
now there's this sense of the spark of what happened during Civil
Rights. Suddenly I think this little door is opening but that will
all just die if McCain is elected.
I gather your mother is your No1 listener.
She really is. It's been that way always. I'll still try to take her
on one more tour even though it's very difficult for her to walk now.
She's 95 but she just sits enraptured.
Does she like the new album?
She loves it. Like many other people, she wants to hear the old stuff
but she was surprised at how much she likes this. It's because to do
with the fact it's unplugged and she can hear her little girl's voice
really well in it. It's folkier than anything I've done in a long time.
How was working with Steve Earle?
He's so left of me that I call him Mr Pink. At the same time, we're
soulmates. His beliefs, his songs and the way he produced this album
are a joy. I hear he has an amazing knowledge of music.
When he starts talking, I'm hoping he won't ask me any questions
because I never know the answers!
You were already singing Steve's Christmas In Washington at concerts
but how did the album come about?
From Steve talking to my manager. The idea is so obvious, it's
silly. I think he is at the head of the pack of today's songwriters.
He writes the songs that are most relevant and political but also the
In some ways, Christmas In Washington gets the best response of the
This new album is all cover versions. Do you wish you'd written more
I do. I'm not sure why it stopped, it just did but I'm glad I've
written what I have. I started as an interpreter. Sweet Sir Galahad,
that's the first song I wrote way back in the mists of time.
You sang Sweet Sir Galahad at Woodstock. How do you remember the festival?
The picture I always have is a man who's stark naked who's walking
across a big muddy area and there's a policeman in the foreground who
put his gun in the car and was roasting hot dogs. It was just the
most superb reversal of everything. When I sang, I couldn't see much.
It was dark but, at that moment, it wasn't raining.
What was it like meeting Mandela?
I've waited a long, long time to meet him. The nice thing was I was
being recognised for what I'd done as well. So Bill Clinton and Prime
Minister Brown were saying these nice things to me . Then somebody
said: "Have you ever met Mr Mandela?" I said No so one of the ladies
with the big hats on, one of his cohorts, took me over to his table.
Joan Baez triumphantly returns on Day After Tomorrow
by Joel D Amos
Joan Baez and Steve Earle may seem an odd coupling. The pair, in
fact, have made magic on Baez's latest CD, Day After Tomorrow. Her
latest arrived in stores September 9.
Joan Baez became famous for serving as the female face of folk music
for the 1960s. Baez's first CD in years, Day After Tomorrow, finds
her in a zone all her own. Her voice is unmistakable and her craft is
as sharp as any musician working today.
Earle is not the only visitor to Baez's studio on the musical go
around. Elvis Costello and Tom Waits contributed tracks that
rightfully bring Baez back to an audience eager for something new.
What's fantastic is Baez's five-decade career has left those new
audiences with a plethora of incredible music to discover after
finding their way through Day After Tomorrow.
Is there any sign of Baez and her spirited vocal culture commentary?
You bet, in droves the singer exhibits on the title track, a haunting
and powerful anti-war song penned by Waits.
With two recent mining disasters in the news in the last several
years, Henry Russell's Last Words also proves that Joan Baez in 2008
is has relevant, resonant and as revolutionary as ever.
Baez saves her classic folk sound, loses edge
By: Ben Pierson /The Daily Cardinal
September 12, 2008
Folk favorite delivers an admirable but from production to
insturmentation, it comes up short.
In the '60s and '70s Joan Baez was a folk empress, leader in the
anti-war movement and all that jib-jab. She still speaks and sings at
protests and does the whole aging-hippie thing wonderfully, but like
many other old peaceniks, she has kind of lost her edge. Her new
album Day After Tomorrow still features Baez's fantastic voice, but
the album fails to replicate the fantastic drama of her earlier work.
Unlike great songs "Silver Dagger" or "SONG" the instrumentation
plays a much smaller role, acting as a frame for Baez's vocals. Day
After Tomorrow features some great collaborators like Elvis Costello,
Steve Earle and Tom Waits, but their presence is subtle, and
listeners have to stretch their ears just to pick out the help. Taken
as a whole, almost every song blends into the next in a way an
inattentive listener would barely know it had changed.
The album is pleasant and easy listening, great for the people that
grew up at the same time as Baez. It is perfect for a lazy day around
the house or in the hybrid, but not for those times when you just
want to stick it to the man. As a folk album Day After Tomorrow is
fine, but it does not invigorate or pull on heart strings the way a
great folk album should.
As a rule, most generally lend skepticism toward any album with
phrases like "day after tomorrow," and that holds true here. Any
album that places such low emphasis on its title, the first contact
most listeners will have with the piece, usually turns out to be
lazily compiled. Baez spent a lot of this album covering the work of
her collaborators, but rather than taking the songs to a new or
higher level she simply puts them into folk format.
With Day After Tomorrow Joan Baez seems to say "I am still around,
working with popular, talented, relevant people, listen to me." It is
a fine album, but only in the sense that Baez has a beautiful voice,
even with Steve Earle producing, the instrumentation is a behind the
scenes character. It is lackluster, still up to par, good but not great.