I have passed on many opportunities to see Joan Baez perform, but I rethought my position when she came through Minneapolis last month. We bought tickets to see her in concert before a sold-out crowd at the State Theater and the tickets were priced such that we didn’t have to draw on a line of credit to do it.
Baez turned 75 earlier this past January. Who knows where the time goes? I thought it might be our last chance to see her sing in person. With her I share the pathos of time and age. That was my attitude.
Certain that she would subject us to her advocacy of political views that are alien and anathema to us, I vowed to take them in as a student of the human comedy and laugh them off. That proved to be the right approach for us in this case.
On politics Baez seems to me comprehensively in error. She is a parody of the high-minded leftist impervious to reason or experience. During the show, for example, she expressed her opposition to prisons in principle. Toward the end of the show, when she got around to opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline, we reached the nadir with a local angle. I actually found it funny.
Baez herself brought some humor to the politics. She came out wearing a Nasty Woman t-shirt. The guys in her outfit (including her son, Gabriel, on percussion) wore Bad Hombre t-shirts. So she supports Hillary Clinton. Her pacifism seems to have receded. It went unmentioned during the show. The times they are a-changin’.
Judging by the response of the crowd of 2,000 or so in attendance at the State, we were the only Trump voters within the sound of her voice among this particular herd of independent minds.
I love the music. I can’t help it. It gives me joy and tranquillity. In the world of the music, Baez is a historic figure.
She opened the show with “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word.” It was the one song I wanted to hear her sing. Her voice was a little hoarse on the song, and she dropped a few verses, but I was happy.
The song comes from Any Day Now, Baez’s 1968 double album of Dylan covers. It was the first Joan Baez album I bought, after I heard her a cappella version of “Tears of Rage” playing overhead in a movie theater in Georgetown in the summer of 1969. Dylan wrote it with the late Richard Manuel. “Come to me now, you know/We’re so alone/And life is brief…” That’s what I’m talking about.
Baez has inspired many followers, of whom Dar Williams is one. Baez invited Williams to join her on the 1995 live recording, Ring Them Bells. Speaking of the pathos of time, I should note that Baez’s younger sister, Mimi, who also joined her on the album, died in 2001.
Williams’s song “You’re Aging Well” comes with an off-putting feminist overlay, but it captures the gratification of finding your own way in the world: “We’re so glad that you finally made it here.” Even though our destinations differ, I identify completely with that sentiment (and love the harmony). Baez, incidentally, is indeed aging well. She makes 75 look like the new 40.
The Indigo Girls (Emily Saliers and Amy Ray) are another pair of followers. They also joined her on Ring Them Bells. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more moving version of “The Water Is Wide” (video below). “Give me a boat that can carry two…”