Baez still fiery 50 years later
By Heath McCoy, Canwest News Service
March 25, 2009
It's striking, at first, to hear Joan Baez describe somebody as being
"a little left" of her.
The woman is, after all, a leading voice of the American folk music
revival of the late 1950s -- a movement firmly ingrained in socialist
politics. Baez is sure to go down as an icon of the left wing.
An unrelenting peace activist and antiwar protester, she took on the
war in Iraq with the same righteous passion that she brought to the
table when protesting the Vietnam War decades before. She has also
been a fervent campaigner of civil liberties and gay and lesbian
rights, as well as a dedicated environmentalist and an anti-death
The Mexican-American singer is synonymous with our picture of the
proverbial folkie at the protest rally.
So when Baez, 68, describes politically crusading singer-songwriter
Steve Earle -- who produced her latest album Day After Tomorrow -- as
being "a little tiny bit to the left of me," that's a comment that
leaps up and announces itself.
"I call him Mr. Pinko and he likes that," she jokes.
Many would assume Baez might have seniority over Earle in that
department. Not so, suggests Baez in an interview in advance of her
three Canadian tour dates.
"That's a bit of a misconception because I've done things on 'the
other side' with just as much fervour," says Baez. "But it's easier
to pigeonhole somebody than it is to stretch the imagination."
Indeed, Baez has fallen seriously out of favour with the political
left at a few points in her career.
In 1989 she supported Vaclav Havel, who was to become the president
of the Czech Republic, when Havel worked to topple the oppressive
communist regime in his country.
Baez had also denounced the government of communist Vietnam for its
human rights violations a decade earlier, a move that drew harsh
criticism from the left.
Among those criticisms was an attack in the media from
actress-activist Jane Fonda.
Baez remembers it all very well.
"You know, (Fonda) did rash things when she was young and she got
criticized for what she did, too," Baez says. "She and I met the
other day for the first time in many years with a big, tearful
embrace because I know she meant absolutely well with what she did."
Indeed, Baez says she's never publicly endorsed an American
politician of any stripe -- "I've never trusted them," she states --
until recently. During the 2008 U.S presidential election, she wrote
a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle in support of Barack Obama.
But even that she offers with one big qualification.
"I have no expectations, no illusions that Obama will do everything
right," Baez says. "I mean, I'm a pacifist and he's the commander in
chief of the army, navy and air force."
However, Baez has much hope for Obama, even comparing him to Martin
Luther King Jr., whom she supported and called a friend.
Baez is excited by the success of her latest release, with Day After
Tomorrow being her highest charting album in nearly three decades.
The disc, which marked Baez's 50th year as a performer, also earned
her a Grammy nomination for best contemporary folk album.
Along with compositions from Earle, the record also finds Baez
covering songs from such acclaimed songwriters as Tom Waits, T Bone
Burnett and Elvis Costello. This continues a Baez tradition that goes
back to her first album.
Baez made her musical reputation as a skilled interpreter of other
artists' songs. Throughout her career she has taken on tunes by
everybody from her old flame Bob Dylan, to Johnny Cash, Joni
Mitchell, the Beatles, the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones.
Because she has so firmly established herself an a gifted
interpreter, it's sometimes easy to forget that Baez has also proved
her worth as a songwriter in the past. But that's a skill she hasn't
employed in quite some time.
"I stopped writing about 15 years ago," she says. "I don't really
know why I stopped. If it started again for me I'd be delighted but
if that doesn't come to the forefront it doesn't bother me. I have
all these other people and all their great material."
Baez belts old and new ballads with ageless bravado
Story by Jeff Osteen
March 27, 2009
After all these years, folk icon Joan Baez still has the same smile.
Her hair is short, she dresses hip and she unmistakably revels in the
Baez took the stage Tuesday evening for a packed University Theatre
during her international tour in support of her 24th studio album,
"Day After Tomorrow."
The album, recorded in Nashville and released in 2008, is her first
to chart on the Billboard 200 in 29 years and was also nominated for
a Grammy Award. Themes of hope and homecoming pepper "Day After
Tomorrow," a title based on the Tom Waits song, which Baez performs
on the album.
The lights dimmed.
Baez casually sauntered out to a late applause, as if the audience
didn't immediately recognize her.
She opened with the traditional song "Lily of the West," which she
recorded for her second album in 1961 when she was 20 years old. As
she spoke, the audience got reacquainted with the woman who has been
an adamant voice for the protections of civil rights and free speech
"We have many decades to traverse," she said before jumping through
her career's repertoire and rolling into "Scarlett Tide," the Academy
Award- and Grammy Award-nominated song from her latest album.
An acoustic trio backed Baez using, by turns, bass, banjo, mandolin
and fiddle. Together, they had a bluegrass sound, occasionally
breaking into three-part harmonies.
The album was produced by American roots artist Steve Earle.
"Steve writes these things in 24 hours, which pisses me off," Baez
said before beginning "I Am a Wanderer," one of several songs found
on the album penned by Earle.
With that, the band exited the stage and Joan picked up a bright red
teacup with white polka dots. She took a sip and began a story about
a poetry reading in which she was asked to participate.
"They wanted me to read somebody else's poem," she said, "and I said
no, I want to read my own." Laughter bounced from the crowd.
She picked up a few pieces of paper from the stage near her feet and
began reading two poems entitled "Vivian" and "Low, Low Impact Class"
to roaring applause.
Before the crowd could hush their hurrahs, she began belting out
"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" a capella.
At 68 years old, with a voice that is a little bit aged and has less
air behind it, Baez can still hit those notes. A man outside the show
later said, "It's mature, not a crystal clear bell, but still ... ."
She picked up her guitar again and gave an introductory anecdote
She said her parents were divorced for 30 years. But when her father
was 91 years old, he wrote her mother a letter to tell her that he
was dying, he wanted to die married and she was the only one he
wanted to be married to.
Baez said her mother replied, "What the hell," and they were
remarried. She then presented her next song as one she sang at their
"Forever Young," was the first song of the evening, written by Bob
Dylan. Baez has spent much of her early career alongside Dylan, after
introducing him to the world in 1963.
Baez left the stage to a roaring crowd and soon returned, band in
tow. After playing the traditional "Long Black Veil," she launched
into the second Dylan tune of the night "Don't Think Twice, It's All
Right," and included a Dylan impersonation at the end of the song
that sent the audience into another fit of laughter.
"I knew you were cool," she said.
She thanked the audience for sharing the evening and, still beaming
with a youthful countenance, though a little slower in her steps,
Baez walked the stage and bowed several times to the standing ovation.
The evening ended with a sing-a-long version of the John Lennon