In praise of Joan Baez

In “Diamonds and rant” I I observed Joan Baez embarrassing herself following the 2004 election. Yesterday the Washington Post reported that the Army had nixed Baez from performing with John Mellencamp at Walter Reed Hospital, and it allowed Baez to get off a self-deprecating one-liner at the Army’s expense: “One of my more cynical friends said, ‘They let the rats in, why not you?'”
On what ground did the Army nix Baez? As the Reuters report noted, “Rocker John Mellencamp and folk singer Joan Baez are both vehemently against the war in Iraq[.]” So it can’t be that. The Post story quotes Walter Reed spokesman Steve Sanderson referring to additional requirements that Baez’s performance would have imposed. Having seen contracts for performers and lecturers, I don’t think that’s necessarily implausible, but it is lame. The Reuters story says that the Walter Reed spokesman did not return calls asking for comment.
Baez has been a constant advocate of non-violence for upwards of 40 years. She is the kind of advocate of non-violence who found herself visiting Hanoi without notable discomfort in 1972. By contrast with her antiwar buddies, however, as I recall, she also found it in herself to sign an open letter protesting the Cambodian holocaust in 1975, and another one to the government of Vietnam protesting its political repression in 1978. I could understand the desire of the Army from the bottom to the top to have nothing to do with her. But how then does John Mellencamp cut it? He is a charter member in the “shut up and sing” club himself.
Baez remains a remarkable artist. UK’s Proper Records has recently released an expanded two-disc version of her smashing, previously deleted 1995 live recording “Ring Them Bells.” Among many highlights, it includes the most beautiful version of “The Water is Wide” that I’ve ever heard. Although her politics set my teeth on edge, her art is special. As age has dented the perfection of her “achingly pure” soprano, it has increased its emotional power.
Yesterday also brought news of the Army’s new 79-page new OPSEC guidelines that will drastically restrict the ability of soldiers to communicate via blogs and email. As Baez herself might sing, “Too much of nothing can make a man feel ill at ease.”
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