Dancing at 68: the night they drove Joan Baez down... here
It's been fifty years since she took the stage at Boston's legendary Club 47, and folk icon Joan Baez is still celebrating. After more than two decades off the major pop charts, her twenty-fourth studio release, Day After Tomorrow, released in September, has put her back in the limelight.
With a voice that has endured decades of musical variation, a passionate activism that continues to fight for equality and justice, and a spunk that has yet to dim, Baez shows no signs of slowing.
"I'm happy to be be here singing after so many years," Baez says of her half-century musical reign. "I think it's a little nuts to be doing it all these years, but what's even nuttier is that people come to hear it."
One of the leading voices of the '60s folk revival, Baez solidified her iconic revolutionary persona while on the front line of numerous political and social issues: walking alongside the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez during the Civil Rights movement, protesting America's involvement in Vietnam, and speaking out for gay rights– experiences that still contribute to the words she sings today.
The Hook: You were friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., and very involved in civil rights– how do you feel about the country's first African American president?
Joan Baez: I've never endorsed anybody on any level, but there's something about this man that made me feel irresponsible if I didn't support him publicly. When someone can come along and unify people in this extraordinary way– I haven't seen that since King.
The Hook: You've come upon fifty years in the public spotlight as a performer– what kind of fulfillment does that bring?
JB: It's become more and more important to follow your heart. People have been too busy making money, and it's time to go back to our roots of human decency and making music from the earth. But do I feel fulfilled? In some ways I do, though I never thought I would. There's a contentment I've found during meditation.
The Hook: You've always been involved in activism; what's your passion right now?
JB: The one I'm focusing on now is my family– they kind of got gypped during the '60s and '70s. I'm not out on the front lines at the moment, but anything I've ever supported has been in the context of non-violence. I'm always anti-death penalty, anti-torture.
The Hook: How has the Greenwich Village scene changed throughout the years? Has it changed at all to you?
JB: If it hadn't, we'd be in an odd pickle– things have to change. I was in the Village when we called ourselves bohemian, then 'hippie' came along fairly quickly, then yuppie. How we describe ourselves is in the context of where the world has put us in in the moment.
The Hook: How does it feel to be constantly compared to Bob Dylan?
JB: There are worse things that could happen, like being compared to Genghis Khan. He was the best writer we've had in the movement. I knew that I had brought him completely out of a shadow and it was my pleasure to bring him along to concerts. The whole time I watched [Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home], I felt like his grandmother, watching this kid grow.
The Hook: You've said in interviews that after the Vietnam War, you went through an identity crisis. How were you able to overcome that, and what advice do you have for a country going through a similarly complex situation?
JB: The first thing that comes to my mind is meditation– it's the only way we slow our brain down to let it figure itself out from within. With so much happening in the world, it's so pleasant to have our country in a decent context. Now when I travel, I don't have to be embarrassed! If the country is in an identity crisis, it should be attempting to turn in the direction of hope and decency.
The Hook: How was growing up Hispanic in the '50s and '60's political and cultural environment?
JB: It was '50s Southern California– so not the best place to be a Mexican. I don't consider it crippling, but it did make things difficult, and it took a long time to overcome, to feel that you're as good as everybody. Musically, I haven't taken that much advantage of it– I might still do it.
The Hook: What kind of reactions have Day After Tomorrow garnered? It was your first album to hit the charts in twenty-nine years, and it's been said to sound most like your earliest work.
JB: Well, in those initial albums, my voice was about an octave higher than it is now. There's a feeling with those early songs, something really truthful. Some of it sounds like the a 200-year-old English folk song, but with a really contemporary sound.
The Hook: What can we expect from you at The Paramount?
JB: I have a guitar player from Ireland, a bass player, mandolin, banjo, accordion... they're the best band I've ever had. We just play for three hours while the bus is rolling; and it can't get any lovelier than that. If the roads are good, we can dance, at 70 miles per hour, no problem.
The Hook: What will we be seeing from you in the next couple of months?
JB: We're making a documentary on me– it's done in the form of conversations, interviews. With my life being parallel to so many other beings, it's exciting. It's an American Masters Production, done by PBS, and it should be out next fall.
Joan Baez performs at The Paramount on Tuesday, March 3. Show starts at 8 pm, and tickets are $39-65.