On the Road With Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Rolling Thunder Revue

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I'm back from goose hunting in Maryland," [said President Ford.] He was disappointed at only bagging one goose in six hours. Shifting to the subject of country music, "Joan Baez really grabs me," Ford admitted. Party host Senator William Brock (R-Tenn.) agreed. "I wish I could get her to campaign for me . . . at least in some areas," said the senator.

Women's Wear Daily, November 19th, 1975

The campaigner is still very fond of the klezmer. "I used to be too hard on him. I used to be too hard on a lot of people." Baez grins, sipping wine. "Well, I'm not as stiff as I used to be. I've lightened up on people. I don't expect Bob to champion my causes anymore. I've learned he's not an activist, which does not mean he doesn't care about people. If that were so, he wouldn't have written 'Hurricane.' "

Having shrived Dylan of her moral burden ("Singer or savior it was his to choose/Which of us know what was his to lose"), what does she want for him now?

"I'd like to see him keep making music, keep creating. Why, I would like him to be happy."

It all depends, of course. Or, as Jane Ace once said to Goodman Ace, "If it makes him happy to be happy, then let him be happy."

And what does she want for herself?

Joan Baez speaks to the wall. "There must be something I can do with my life that will be worthwhile."

You talk, I say, as if you've been a sybarite or a government official up to now.

"Oh, I've already done a fair amount of things; but in terms of what has to be done, how do you measure what you still ought to be doing? And maybe what I did wasn't done as efficiently as it could have been. Screaming at people may not be the most efficient way. I'm going to stay back a little from now on. I'm learning how to listen to people instead of preaching at them so much. And learning to listen to myself again. I'm 30,000 words into a book, an extension of Daybreak. And the songs. I'm going to write more personal songs. If they come. I go through some very long dry periods. But it's fun when it happens."

She likes to laugh, always has, though in the past, as she knows, she has sometimes come on like Carry Nation, wielding her ax, with, as they used to say, an "achingly pure soprano."

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At the start of rehearsals for a television show in 1960, she announces what songs she will not sing; with whom else she will appear in her section of the program (no one); the amount of time she will need; the kinds of sets behind her she will not permit. She is not negotiating. She is stating irreducible demands and looking toward the door.

The producer, Robert Herridge, a prideful maverick and wildly ecumenical intellectual who is too honest to last long at CBS, is morose, frustrated. He turns to me, who has brought him this burning bush, and snaps, "The bitch is only 19 years old and she thinks she's Thomas Mann."

She also thought that singing wasn't enough, wasn't nearly enough, and as the Sixties went on, she went on the stump for tax resistance and draft resistance, went to jail twice for helping block induction centers, marched for civil rights North and South, arguing with Martin Luther King much of the way. (King was proud that black bands were coming out of the "revolution," pointing out to Joan that "the black keys and the white keys on the piano are out of tune. We have to get them in tune, and this is one way." And Joan, the still burning bush, pointed a long, graceful finger at him and said, "But the whole fucking orchestra is shot, so what good are black bands going to do?") And she worked with Cesar Chavez before all the articles and books made it modish to switch table wines and peer at the crates the iceberg lettuce came in.

No other performer came anywhere close to Joan in terms of being continually on the line in those already blurred years. And as the most deeply knowledgeable popular circuit rider for active nonviolence, it was Joan who became a pariah among certain "revolutionaries" pushing holy violence because she insisted early in that self-indulgent game that Tolstoy had been right: "The difference between establishment violence and revolutionary violence is the difference between dog shit and chicken shit."

As she kept getting braver and as her radical pacifist thinking grew more rigorous, Joan was also growing into a woman who loved falling in love, just as in the old songs, and who kept learning how to move on, just as in the new songs. Nearly 35, the mother of a six-year-old son, she's still moving on, in a number of directions.

"There are four of me, right?" Joan says. "A mother, a woman, a musician and a politician. For a long time, I always put politics first. When Gabe was born, being a mother and being political took on coequal importance. Music, like before, kept being shoved into the background. And the me that is a woman kept coming and going, depending on whether there was something going on in that part of my life.

"Then," she goes on, "I went broke, so broke I couldn't even fly East for a demonstration. I had done a series of political albums which hadn't sold and so I had to put music up front, I had to stop being part of everybody's political campaign and I had to go out there and entertain. That was last summer's concert tour. I was frightened. What would they think, the people who came to hear the political Joan Baez? At first, I was so apprehensive, I'd announce during a concert that I was on vacation. But you know what they thought? They thought I was human. And I liked it too. I found myself dancing during the concerts and I love to dance. I'd never been so spontaneous onstage. The audiences were having fun and so was I."

So, in the middle of the journey, the newsreel footage of the Sixties having been locked up somewhere, which of the four Baezes is going to be in the forefront now?

"It's still getting sorted out," says Joan. "I'm always going to be involved in nonviolence, I still feel very close to Chavez and the farmworkers, and I expect I'll be working again with Amnesty International. But on the other hand, I want to be with my kid. This is a very important year for him, a kind of transition year to when he starts moving away from as much need as he has now for his mother. I don't want to mess this year up. And then there's music. I can see myself getting more involved with the fun of the music, with allowing myself to be a musician for the sake of the music itself."

And the woman part of Baez?

She grins. "That comes and goes, depending on what happens. No way of knowing what's going to happen."

One part of Baez, interlaced with all the others, remains stubbornly intact. "I am," she says, "your basic camp counselor, I really am."

All campers are to be treated equally, with justice and fairness for all. Or else.

By the 12th stop on the Rolling Thunder Revue celebration of musical egalitarianism, the camp counselor is furious. She is preparing a pronunciamento and a graphic drawing for the tour's internal newspaper. She is protesting rank injustice in the heart of all this here cultural freedom.

"They make the security people, the bus drivers and the crew," the burning bush speaks, "eat at separate places and at separate hours from the rest of us. That is segregation."

Who is "they" — Lou Kemp?

"I don't know who it is. But this is going to stop. The drawing I'm putting in shows a pool of blood, and it's going to say that without these guys who are being segregated, one of us principals might be stranded, to say the least, in the wake of the Rolling Thunder Revue."

What if your protest is ignored?

"Then a lot of us," says Joan, "will go eat with the security people, the bus drivers and the crew. There are a lot of possible approaches to this kind of problem."

Is Bob aware of this segregation?

Joan, customarily spontaneous, customarily candid, weighs her answer. "I don't know," she says.

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