Friday, September 5, 2008


Last night I went to see Joan Baez speak and sing at the 92nd Street Y. I try to go see her whenever I can -- she’s practically a goddess as far as I’m concerned. I saw her back when I lived in Florida, and again several years ago at Town Hall here in New York. Last night, she was speaking in Q&A format with Anthony DeCurtis, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the talk was about the ‘60s. She talked about Dylan, about her brother-in-law Richard Farina and her sister Mimi, about traveling to Hanoi and practicing nonviolence in the civil rights era.

She choked up when she began telling the story of seeing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak when she was 16 years old, and asked the interviewer to move on to another question. But she later talked about King again, saying he was a funny, laid-back man.

She talked of riding to dinner in a car with King, Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders on the eve of a protest. She thought she’d have the privilege of hearing them plan a march. Instead, they told jokes the whole time and King indulged himself with a second piece of apple pie for dessert. When she later told one of the men she’d expected to hear plans laid for the march, he replied, “You did.”

She said she’s never endorsed candidates and hates party politics. But she's made an exception for Barack Obama, because she thinks he can unite the disparate elements of activism into a “community” that hasn’t existed since the ‘60s. (She called more recent decades the “hateful time,” or something like that.)

She sang one early song, one middle-period song and one recent song: “There But for Fortune,” “Diamonds and Rust” and “Day After Tomorrow,” the title track from her newest album, which comes out next week.

She talked about how her voice has changed as she’s aged. It’s gotten deeper -- as she put it, gravity acts on everything. Still, it’s always a thrill to hear her sing. Her voice is so familiar it’s comforting, and I admire her so much. She’s awesome.

(Photo: SoHo, Aug. 2008)


  1. What a treat! Joan Baez is one of the all-time greats. I was shocked to Google her just now and learn that she is 67 years old. I still would like to claim her as my generation. Such a wonderfully smart, talented person. You are really delving into the past with Hair one week and Joan the next!

  2. practically a goddess.... WHAT! she is a goddess!

    what a great evening. thanks for the thorough's an understatement to say I wish I was there!!

  3. Diamonds and Rust is such a great song!

    So glad to hear that MLK had fun sometimes, told jokes, ate too much pie. That tidbit is so healing. Bravo.

  4. What an honor it would be for me to see Joan Baez in such an intimate setting! You have a fascinating life Steve.

  5. Joan is 67?! "Who knows where the time goes?" as one of her contemporaries sang . . . What a great evening that must have been. That photo goes so well, but I'm not sure I could articulate why.

  6. gravity acts on everything?

    poop, that i don't need to hear

  7. Joan Baez has been a favorite of mine since age five when I discovered my mother's stash of her early Vanguard LP's of traditional folk songs...While my mother blanched at her involvement in the anti-war movement, she was a beakon to me, and one of the reasons I grew into a liberal pacifist despite my conservative, mostly republican family.

    I still listen to her music and have followed her evolution as an artist. I have, unfortunately, never had an opportunity to hear her speak, so thanks for sharing your experience. I hope fervently that she's right about Obama!

  8. Yes, Joan is definitely a Goddess!!! Rumors are swirling that she may do the same in Nyack at Riverspace, but no formal announcement as yet.

  9. I am a huge fan of Joan as well. I went to see her in Princton at McCarter Theater and had to stand the whole time because those were the only tickets left. I guess there are a lot of fans out there. I listened to her music quite a bit as I drove around this summer in my 'punch buggy'.

    They sure do have some amazing offerings at the 92nd Street Y don't they?

  10. I love "Diamonds and Rust", but then I am a Judy Collins fan and go to see her whenever I can...