Baez: All Diamonds & No Rust
By Sheryl McAlister, a writer based in South Carolina.
My god. If Joan Baez is the new 76, sign me up.
Baez joined musical forces with Mary Chapin Carpenter and the Indigo Girls recently, and I had the good fortune to see the four women play at Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. It was the final performance of the Four Voices Tour, and you could honestly feel the bittersweet sounds of longing as they closed out the run with multiple encores.
Baez was as beautiful as ever, giving voice to the voiceless. Her songs of immigration and the destructive forces of hate and discrimination were as relevant today as they were a generation ago. For a woman who continues to use her talent and her gifts for good, she even closed out the night praying for our current President’s soul. Yes, even Joan Baez seems to have mellowed with age.
Seventy-six years ago, women barely had the right to vote, and Title IX was 30 years from conception. And at the age of 75, Baez was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I guess since Bob Dylan won a Nobel Peace Prize, the powers that be figured it must be about time to induct Baez, the folk singer who inspired generations of musicians. The Hall of Fame certainly waited long enough.
Baez joked that night at Tanglewood about how she viewed the world. “Glass half-full,” she said, “or glass half-empty.” “Hell, the glass has been upside down since I was 15 years old,” she said and the crowd went crazy. “I’ve just always done what needs to be done.”
“Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye Rosalita,” she sang in the song Deportee. “Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria. You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane. All they will call you will be deportees.”
She always did let her music do her talking.
Her version of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down is one of the best. And then there’s Diamonds & Rust. “Now you’re telling me you’re not nostalgic,” she sang, some said to Dylan. “Then give me another word for it. You who are so good with words. And at keeping things vague. ‘Cause I need some of that vagueness now. It’s all come back too clearly. Yes I loved you dearly. And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust…”
And as we all waited for the final line “I’ve already paid,” she deadpanned: “I’ll take the diamonds.” And the crowd roared.
She moved freely about the stage, joining Carpenter, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers or taking a short break on a chair behind them. She was dressed in black – jeans and a v-neck tee shirt, I think. And she appeared to be wearing black Nikes, a concession to age and good sense when you’ve spent your life standing on a stage in front of millions of people.
The crowd was respectful — almost reverent — and fully aware of what we were witnessing. There were the women who brought their daughters and granddaughters and nieces to make sure when those of us there were gone, somebody would be left to remember Baez – the gifts she used, for the good she’s done, in the life she’s led. Even Carpenter was nostalgic, remembering the first time she met Baez as a 16-year-old. She was playing the piano when she said this woman sat down beside her at the piano and joined her on the keyboard. When they finished, Carpenter said she looked up at the woman and asked, “You’re Joan Baez, aren’t you?” And the woman replied, “Yes, and I have time for one more.”
Baez wiped away tears during Carpenter’s rendition of This Shirt, which could be the soundtrack of our own lives. “This shirt was the place your cat decided to give birth to five. And we stayed up all night watching, and we wept when the last one died.”
The four women played together as the Four Voices group for the first time in 1991 and have been together only a few times since then. I thought I read somewhere the tour has been extended. It should be. They have so much to say. And whether you agree with these incredible women politically or not, you simply can’t help but fall in love with how they share their message.
Copyright © 2017 Sheryl McAlister