Words from the wise: Joan Baez, 68
Lessons in life from the over-sixties
February 14, 2009
"I think those who love me wish that I could find the person any
person! who might be special to me. I know what I'm missing and
sometimes ask myself, 'Where is the someone I could share some
"But not at any cost. I had dinner recently with a couple of
girlfriends and much of the conversation was about the ghastly time
they were having with their husbands. I left thinking, 'I so don't
need to be in that situation.' Because no matter how smart you think
you are, once you're in it, you're in it, and it's very difficult to
get out again. There's a lot to be said for independence.
"If I lived in Tibet [Baez lives near San Francisco] I might be able
to look at the ageing process as a wonderful thing, but I don't.
There are days when I look in the mirror and think, 'Who is that
person?' But so much of how we feel about ourselves is down to how
engaged we are with our world. Twenty-five years ago, I found myself
making jokes about my age, because I was unhappy with who and where I
was. The instant I started moving forward again, I felt more vital
and less used-up. Don't be a nostalgia act in life. Stay in the moment.
"I have a treehouse on my land and sleep outdoors in good weather.
But even if I didn't, I'd try to spend time with my feet planted in
the earth. You owe it to yourself to try to find some peace of mind
The pearl: "Once in a while, just close your eyes and be quiet
inside. It's one of the most creative things you can do."
Joan Baez's latest album, Day after Tomorrow, marks her 50th year as
a recording artist
2/21: Folk icon Joan Baez
by Larry Rodgers
Feb. 12, 2009
The Arizona Republic
Like many of her fans, folk icon and social activist Joan Baez has a
tough time grasping the fact that she has been performing for five decades.
"It's hard to imagine when I listen to something from 45 years ago
that it's the same person," says Baez, 68, who performed at the
Lincoln Memorial when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his
"I have a dream" speech, who brought such folk classics as House of
the Rising Sun into popular music and who helped introduce onetime
lover Bob Dylan to the masses in the early '60s.
In many ways, the confident performer who will take the stage on Feb.
21 in Mesa to spotlight her first new album in five years, Day After
Tomorrow, is quite different from the artist who was at the forefront
of the early-'60s folk revival and popular music's foray into social issues.
"I had such terrible stage fright (then) that it wasn't much fun,"
Baez says. "I was riddled with neuroses and sleeplessness and panic
attacks and all this stuff."
Not only was she trying to build a career and deal with her
relationship with Dylan, but Baez also was increasingly consumed by
the civil-rights struggle and her opposition to the Vietnam War.
It took two decades of living through some of America's more
turbulent times, a period that included a six-year marriage to war
protester David Harris, before Baez dealt with her inner issues.
"Twenty years ago, when I hired my wonderful new manager (Mark
Spector), I started to tackle that stuff in a serious, therapeutic
way, which I hadn't done before, and I highly recommend it," says
Baez, who lives in Northern California.
"Most of those things have vanished completely - fear of flying ,
fear of this, that and the other. And so is stage fright gone. So in
a sense, starting maybe 10 years ago, I began to really understand
what it was like to just walk on the stage and have a wonderful time."
Baez has described herself as a glass-half-empty type, and she
doesn't feel the need to be defensive about it.
The woman who founded the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence and
the Humanitas International Human Rights Committee says, "Maybe (that
description) was all to do with politics and social change, and I
think I'm reasonable not being optimistic."
A master at interpreting traditional folk and gospel songs, Baez has
performed such classics as We Shall Overcome, Swing Low, Sweet
Chariot and Amazing Grace at events supporting causes from
environmentalism to pacifism to gay rights to fighting poverty to
opposing the death penalty.
Baez's mixture of social conscience and beautiful music impresses
Carron Cruse, a longtime advocate of folk music in Arizona.
"I wish there were a ton more people like her," says Cruse, who
operates the Music Corner coffeehouse inside Phoenix's Shepherd of
the Valley Lutheran Church.
Despite her activism, Baez says she never endorsed a presidential
candidate until November's election. Given her stance on various
issues, it's no surprise that she backed Barack Obama over the more
conservative John McCain.
"It's fascinating to change the face of the world in a matter of a
minute (by electing a new president)," Baez says. "It's crazy, and
it's absolutely wonderful. I'm enjoying the ride."
Baez also is enjoying a musical partnership with Steve Earle, a
highly respected singer-songwriter in roots and rock music.
The Day After Tomorrow album, on which Baez interprets favorite tunes
by the likes of Tom Waits, Patty Griffin, Eliza Gilkyson and Elvis
Costello, is the pair's third recording project.
Baez says, "We have enough basics that are very similar - the
politics, though he is considerably to the left of me, the kind of
music, (which is) down-to earth, his songs, brilliant songs. I knew
that we would just hit it off."
Earle nudged Baez to include such instruments as mandolin, Hawaiian
guitar, Dobro and harmonium, putting a rootsy spin on her folk
inclinations. Baez sees the album as an updated way to bookend the
storytelling and commentary that launched her career.
"That was the trick," says Baez, who is touring with a small acoustic
ensemble. "Rose of Sharon (penned by Gilkyson), I would have sworn it
was a 200-year-old English folk song.
"But we also realized (that), because of Steve, it had to be current
and totally contemporary, which it is."
Baez's drive to keep folk and traditional music vibrant after 50
years of performing awes promoter Cruse and the acts she deals with
every week at her coffeehouse.
"Quite often, especially in the 20- and 30-year-olds, (Baez) is one
of the inspirations that is behind their music and how they got
started," Cruse says.
"In traditional folk music, I can't think of a better person to
emulate than Joan Baez."
Joan Baez still singing the truth after decades of music-making
Bill Kramer • columnist
February 12, 2009
There aren't many in the arts who embody much of what the last 50
years has held more than Joan Baez, who will sing at
Charlottesville's Paramount Theater on March 3.
Baez is celebrating her 51st year as a performer and one could easily
trace much of our country's history in the last half-century by
examining her career.
She appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959 at age 18.
She was featured on the cover of Time in 1962, and a year later, she
toured with Bob Dylan and helped him gain national attention.
In those years, she appeared at many events supporting the Civil
Rights Movement, from flatbed truck stages in the deep South, to that
momentous day when she sang at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington,
when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.
A lifelong pacifist, Baez sang and spoke out against the Vietnam War,
and in later years, supported such far-flung efforts as marching with
the Irish Peace People in the late '70s, being the first act in the
U.S. portion of the worldwide Live Aid concerts and joining Sting and
others on Amnesty International's Conspiracy of Hope tour.
Not a prolific songwriter, but rather an interpreter of other
songwriters' work, Baez followed in the tradition of the likes of
Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Odetta, singing folk songs and being a
champion of social causes.
Her latest recording, "Day After Tomorrow," stands with her best
work. Although her famous crystalline vocals are somewhat less
soaring than in her early years, Baez still expresses a warmth that
Almost as important as the material are the sidemen for the CD. As
producer, Steve Earle, one of many songwriters she has championed
over the years, brought in friends Darrel Scott, Tim O'Brien and
Kenny Malone as backup singers and instrumentalists on the album's 10 songs.
Their support allows Baez to shine. Following her longtime opposition
to war, the set includes Tom Waits' somber "Day After Tomorrow" and
"Scarlet Tide," a song written by Elvis Costello and T-Bone Burnett
about the Civil War.
Many songs on the new album likely will be part of the Paramount
appearance, along with standards, such as The Band's "The Night They
Drove Old Dixie Down."
There are many artists who started in the halcyon days of the '60s
who no longer command respect or relevance in today's music world.
Baez isn't one of them and what's more, she's still as fervent and
active as ever and her voice still has that ring of truth.
E-mail Go! music critic Bill Kramer at firstname.lastname@example.org.