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Joan Baez: The Rolling Stone Interview

Old folk at home

Joan Baez, performing, stage

Joan Baez performing on stage. Circa 1983

Richard E. Aaron/Redferns/Getty

I was a kid then, when she was the queen. That voice, the sad ballads, the thrum of nylon strings – major relevance among the girls at school who were into Ayn Rand and black leotards. I listened, too: her sail-away soprano was so hypnotic, so…achingly pure. She was as new then, as decidedly different, as, say, David Bowie would be a dozen years later. She changed my life a little. Who could forget: Joan Baez, she warmed up for the Sixties.

But I wasn’t expecting that loopy moment at the end of the Grammy Awards telecast on February 23rd, when John Denver, the show’s host, announced a windup medley of hits from that sacred decade, the Sixties. Denver intoned the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” with the gravity of a parson at graveside.

And then, suddenly, a lone figure with an acoustic guitar scurried out across the Shrine Auditorium stage. It was Joanie! Without a word, she began picking the chords to “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Denver harmonized, and slowly the evening’s award winners drifted back in to add their famous voices to the swaying refrain.

Even the audience got sucked in. It was weird. I wondered: can Joan Baez still be at it? Miss Protest? Barefoot daughter of the moneyed middle class, Quaker-bred pop star, wisecracking pacifist, half-Mexican Madonna of the ancient English laments? The great straight lady of the hipster Sixties – still at it in 1983?

As it happened, we had been talking for some time. Long hours in Manhattan hotel rooms, phone calls from her home outside San Francisco and from France, where she recently toured to promote the true cause of pacifism.

She’s a riot, actually, with her legs crossed up under a royal-blue muumuu, and a helpless gossip. We talked about people she knew: Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, the great Phil Spector, Mario Savio (leader of Berkeley’s free-speech movement), Martin Luther King. The odd randy film star.

She is vibrant when she throws back her head and laughs, often about herself. And yes, she says, she’s still at it.

There’s her career, of course, such as it is. Her last “hit” was “Diamonds and Rust,” the celebrated ode to Bobby, in 1975. In 1979, she withdrew to devote three years to the establishment of her own pacifist group, Humanitas International. Joan sees this as her real life: calling convocations on Latin American fascism, raising modest sums for human-rights efforts. Doing good. Still, one must live.

Last summer she surfaced with a tape of seven self-penned songs she had recorded with members of the Grateful Dead. Record companies didn’t want to know: Joan Baez? How quaint. Maybe if she adapted, got hip. But Joanie’s not about to throw her life into this lousy business again.

“It’ll always be this way,” she said one drizzly afternoon over tea. “I’m not interested in talking about music. If there’s a choice between people picking and singing in one room and a group of mothers of disappeared Argentinians in another room, I’m gonna go and talk to the mothers.”

She knows she can be prissy. She’s afflicted with dignity. But she’s no prude; she’s been around, made some seminal scenes. Her father, Alberto Vinicio Baez – a now-retired physicist, UNESCO consultant and author of a standard textbook called The Spiral Approach to Physics– was a peripatetic scholar.

His second daughter, born on Staten Island, New York, on January 9th, 1941, started traveling early and has never really stopped: little Joanie in Paris and Bangkok; teenage Joanie, the queen of the late-Fifties Boston coffeehouse scene; Joanie at Newport with Dylan, in Selma with King, at Woodstock with child; Joanie in Hanoi, ducking U.S. bombs.

She was there at the beginning of big pop culture, and she’s still at it. Alone now: her marriage to draft resister David Harris is history, of course, and her 13-year-old son, Gabriel, moved out a few months ago to live with some friends down the street. She sees her younger sister, Mimi (who runs the prisoner-outreach organization Bread and Roses), more than her older sister, Pauline, who lives way off in Carmel. Her parents are divorced. So Joan travels; she sings when she can, wherever she’s wanted.

They love her in Europe, where she’s released records in a flurry of languages, but not in Russia and the less lovable Latin American states, where she’s been forbidden to perform. She is enormously likable. Knows how to relate. She can be jolly in jeans, dishing the civil-rights scene and the old folkie days, or she can be a proper young matron chatting up the VIPs at a wine-and-cheese freeze gathering, inhaling homilies from the likes of Teddy Kennedy even though she abhors all politicians on principle.

Anything for the cause. And the career? She wants to start over again, maybe on a small label. She knows this will be an uphill enterprise for the woman still remembered, with a snicker, as the author of such deathless lines as “My life is a crystal teardrop.”

She’s a total outsider now, but she can laugh about it. Al Capp, the late mad-dog cartoonist, defamed her in a vicious, transparent parody, as “Joanie Phoanie,” the dilettante folk-commie. But today, at 42, Joan Baez is as committed as ever to the pacifist vision of peace and world unity. She dares to be quaint. She’s still at it.

Why have your new songs received the cold shoulder from U.S. record companies?
I don’t think my tape is salable as an album in this country. I have offers for it from Europe. But I think it needs to be a much better album. It needs other people’s material on it. I never had to bother much thinking about my career before, but I do now if I want to have one in the States. Things aren’t exactly popping here. I’ve been gone for three years.

You recorded this tape with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. Do you go back a long way with them?
Not really. I met them through Mickey. He came out to my house one day banging on a drum, hopping around the front yard and yelling to me over the din about how rhythm is father, melody mother, and the sisters are harmony. So we got together and decided we would make an album. He spent about three months cleaning up rat remains and putting together chewed-up wires in his funky little studio. The musicians were all Mickey’s friends, and then the Dead all played on different parts.

Do you think you’ll record with them again in the future?
No. It didn’t work, really. They were very polite to me, but basically, I was an intrusion. The fact is, there’s too much dope intake for me to break through. If I’m gonna say something, that’s the last place in the world that they want to hear it. So one of the reasons I don’t think we could ever really sort of get off together is that I don’t do dope, and they all do. Lots of it. Their music takes you to another place, but basically, I’ve never been there.

I understand one of your new songs, “Children of the Eighties,” was inspired by an odd concert you played in Europe–a rock & roll show in which you were billed between Genesis and Frank Zappa.
That was in Ulm, Germany. I didn’t realize that they were making bets backstage that I would just get dumped off the stage. I was a little nervous, because there were 55,000 very happy, doped-out kids there – whee, rock & roll and drugs and sex.

A sort of rerun of the Sixties, but not quite making it, so everyone had to drink a little bit more. I looked at this crowd and thought, Oh, Jesus Christ. I worked for 20 minutes very, very hard trying to establish contact. And I did. Then I talked to them – about war and peace and human rights and Argentina – and I brought them down to earth, which is where people have to land if they’re ever going to think.

And this thing began to happen. By the end of 40 minutes, they were calling for “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “We Shall Overcome.” They were weeping, they were lighting candles. I meant something to them – I represented the Sixties, that was clear. I stood for John Lennon, Bob Dylan, people they needed as heroes. They are fresh out of heroes in the Eighties.

You and Dylan reunited on stage at a Peace Week concert in Los Angeles last June. What state of mind did he seem to be in?
I really have no idea. But I love singing with him. He isn’t in tune, the phrasing is nuts, and he always wants to do a song I’ve never heard before. This time he read it off his arm, and he couldn’t see. I begged him to do something we knew, but he wanted to do this Jimmy Buffett tune, “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” He scribbled it all over his wrist, and then forgot to take his jacket off. It’s always an interesting happening when Bob appears.

Did he mention the Clash? Apparently he saw them not long ago and really liked them.
Yeah. He said, “These English groups have a lot to say.” I said, “Well, I can’t wait to hear about it.” What’s the Clash like, do you know?

Politically exuberant. Did Dylan say anything about his current religious posture?
He didn’t bring it up, and I’m not interested in hearing about it.

Your relationship with Dylan has spanned a lot of interesting history. Where shall we start – 1958? Your father moved the family back East so he could teach at MIT, and you entered Boston University–the theater school, wasn’t it?
I don’t know why I went in the theater school, because I hated every second of it. After a while, I just dropped out, flunked everything. My report card was quite something: it had on it every variety of how you can flunk, from F’s to zeros to X’s. There was one A, but it was a misprint of an F. So it was not my forte. But that whole time, what was happening to me was, out of my boredom and distaste for school, I was really drawn into the whole scene of coffee shops and singing and the early English folk songs. That was just really beginning to go very strong.

Where did you first hear this stuff?
Well, the very first things I ever heard–after Harry Belafonte, which up until then represented folk music–were by Odetta. She was my goddess, and I learned everything she sang. And Joe Mapes was somebody who sang back then. And in Harvard Square, there was an overabundance of… not just records–Big Bill Broonzy, you know, and Cynthia Gooding and John Jacob Niles–but everybody sitting in coffee shops imitating them

Didn’t your father take you on your first visit to one of the coffee shops
To Tulla’s Coffee Grinder. I think he regretted it about five minutes after we walked in. It was a family do: “Let’s go see if what we heard about these coffee shops is true.”

Plus, Dad was worried about his daughter, you know? But I was lost right on the first visit. I mean, I was ready to join up and pick up the guitar, which I did. And after that, I just hung out in the coffee shops.

The Club 47 was the hub of that scene. What was it like when you arrived?
There were three people there [laughing]. It was a jazz club, and they had Tuesday nights off. The women who ran it had seen me perform somewhere, and they said they’d give me Tuesday nights for 10 dollars. So I said sure, you know–I was grabbing at a little dough. And so I went. I remember my mother was there, and my boyfriend showed up, and I blushed and lost the words in the middle of a song. There were about nine people, and they were all friends. Then the word started getting around, and the next week there were 30 or 40 people, and the week after that…

It was pretty casual during most of the time I was there. I mean, people would blow in through the windows on motorcycles with guitars over their shoulders, and I’d say, “Whee, c’mon up and sing,” you know? But also during that time, I had bought the idea that I was the Virgin Mary–that that was a pretty good deal. So I was beginning to play out a role that someone had given me. I mean, I was very stuffy about my music. And I think around the middle of that period Newport happened, ’cause I remember coming back and seeing lines around the block for Joanie’s little concert. They upped me to $12.50, I think, at that point.

That was after the 1959 Newport Folk Festival, when Bob Gibson brought you up to sing?
Yeah. I had met him when he was headlining at the Gate of Horn in Chicago, and I was the opening act. It had been my first big venture into nightclubs–the only one. But he was a sweetheart to me, and he invited me personally to Newport and said that he would invite me on the stage, ’cause I wasn’t well-known enough to have my own slot. We sang “Virgin Mary Had One Son” [laughing] and “Jordan River.” I think that was all.

And the crowd went wild?
Well, yeah, they did. I was surprised.

Did you go out and celebrate afterward?
I didn’t believe in that in those days. I probably went home and prayed.

Was Newport ’60 more of an event for you?
The next year? Oh, yeah. I had my own set, and I was already crowned, um, whatever.

By that point, you had been signed by Vanguard Records. How was your first album recorded?
It took four nights. We were in some big, smelly ballroom at a hotel on Broadway, way up by the river. We couldn’t record on Wednesday nights because they played bingo there. I would be down there on this dirty old rug with two microphones, one for the voice and one for the guitar. I just did my set; it was probably all I knew. Just put ’em down. I did “Mary Hamilton” once, that was it. [Adopting a codgerlike wheeze] That’s the way we made ’em in the old days. As long as a dog didn’t run through the room or something, you had it. That album still sells.

How did you deal with success at such a tender age?
Just as badly as everybody else does. It was complicated by the image given to me: zap, you’re the Virgin Mary, the Madonna. I thought that was a terrific idea. In fact, I was sure I was, and I felt very benign and wonderful. Because up until then–I was eighteen–the only image I had of myself was of a dumb Mexican. I’d come from a place where Mexicans were called dumb peach-pickers. So I already had a big identity problem. I was just sorting things out, and all of a sudden somebody said, “Bingo, you’re the Madonna with the achingly pure soprano.” Well, who isn’t gonna opt for that, if those are your choices?

Was your success strictly musical at first, or did you immediately corner the market on youthful idealism?
No, I hadn’t really emerged. I think I was probably known for some civil-rights work at that time, but it wasn’t clear to anybody–and it wasn’t clear to me– what I was doing. It was so unclear that one time, somewhere in the South, I stood up in front of an audience and said, “There’s something I want to say, but I don’t know what it is.” [Laughing] It was just screaming in my head. It was my little socially conscious soul wanting to do something and not really knowing how or where to begin. And part of getting out of that was the combination of political action and Dylan’s music. Because he clarified what I…I mean, he didn’t do what he wrote about–I did what he wrote about, in a sense. I was politically active. But to have it in song was what was so miraculous to me, because I didn’t write then. And I’ve never written that well anyway.

When did you first meet Dylan?
Oh, I was with my very, very jealous boyfriend at the time. It was at Gerde’s Folk City on Washington Square, where they had hootenannies and whatever. Everybody always went there. And somebody said, “Oh, you’ve gotta come down and hear this guy, he’s terrific.” And so I went down with my very, very jealous boyfriend, and we saw this scruffy little palefaced dirty human being get up in front of the crowd and start singing his “Song to Woody.”

I, of course, internally went completely to shreds, ’cause it was so beautiful. But I couldn’t say anything, ’cause I was next to my very, very jealous boyfriend, who was watching me out of the corner of his eye and trying to mentally slaughter Dylan, I think. And then Bob came over and said, “Uhhh, hi”–one of those eloquent greetings–and I just thought he was brilliant and superb and so on. And I think shortly after that, he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

And you dropped the jealous boyfriend?
No, I was an idiot. I stayed with him for a long time.

You and Dylan eventually did become romantically involved, though. How long did it last?
You mean what period of three months was it? Um, Bob and I spent some time together. I honestly don’t know what the year was. You did accompany him on that celebrated 1965 English tour –not an altogether happy trip, I gather.

I just sort of trotted around, wondering why Bob wouldn’t invite me onstage, feeling very sorry for myself, getting very neurotic and not having the brains to leave and go home. That would be the best way to describe that tour [laughing]. It was sort of just wasted time.

You had been at Newport in 1965 when Dylan “went electric” with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and was booed by the folk purists. Did you realize then the significance of what he did?
No, I didn’t. I just thought he was very brave to do it, even though I didn’t like the sound of it. But I learned to like it, because he was still writing wonderful stuff. I don’t know how he stood it, though. I could never have done that – not that I ever wanted to, but I don’t think I could’ve done it.

You’ve never wanted to be a rock & roll singer?
No, never, I’m happy to say. I don’t think I could handle what it supposedly stands for, or doesn’t stand for, not with my particular makeup. I mean, I’d have a job right now, but the hell with that.

A real Sixties question: where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?
I was in a vegetable store [laughing], I really don’t care that much, you know? People have this thing about it, and it’s sort of unfortunate that a president who was basically a myth, like most presidents, has to be everybody’s last memory of the most terrific thing that ever happened to them.

One year after Kennedy’s death, you sang at the first student uprising of the Sixties–the clash at Berkeley between school administrators and the campus free-speech movement. What was it like?
I was very involved with that. Because I was helping run the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence at the time, I felt that my role was to try to instigate as much nonviolence as I could in their activities–’cause they were clearly gonna be active. I spent lots of time there doing seminars and being an outside agitator, talking about how to do nonviolent action and make it work. And we were fighting a lot of very angry kids who didn’t want to hear about that.

I remember taking the microphone away from Mario Savio, who was getting this huge march full of kids into a fury with “they” this and “they” that and “They’re gonna cut us down” and “We don’t have a voice”–and I took the microphone away, and I said, “You have no right to talk that way. We do have a voice, and we can do anything we want to do. For instance” – it came in a flash–”if you felt like taking over Sproul Hall, which is your hall, you can do that.” And then a week later, they decided they would do it, and they called me back up. I remember being thoroughly despised by a good portion of the crowd, because I said to them on the way into Sproul Hall, “Go in with as much love in your hearts as you can muster.”

They didn’t want to hear from love, you know? And then I remember the police waited until Ira Sandperl and I had left the building at three o’clock in the morning, and then they moved in at 3:20 and started the arrests.

You were living in Big Sur by then, weren’t you?
With my jealous boyfriend––isn’t that horrible? [Giggling] The same jealous boyfriend. I lived in what is now Esalen, in that well-noted-by-Time-magazine “shack,” for 35 dollars a month.

Hunter Thompson was my next-door neighbor – he wandered by and took potshots at my kittens and stuff. I lived there for about a year. I would tour a little bit, you know, but I was still very afraid of that whole . . .process of whatever being a star was. And that was always agitated by the boyfriend, who didn’t ever want me to leave, you know–wanted me sitting on the front porch watching him build his trimaran. And paying for it.

Exactly how long did that relationship last?
Four years––isn’t that unbelievable?

Your career took some…interesting turns in the mid-Sixties. I remember, indelibly, your rendition of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” in a 1965 movie, The Big T.N.T.Show.
Oh, my God. That was a mistake. I don’t know how I got there. I remember vaguely being up at Phil Spector’s house with all his karate security guards chopping bricks in half all over the place. Pretty loony. It was filmed at some hole in the wall in L.A. There I was, and there was Phil playing “Spanish Harlem” on the piano, and everybody was loaded on drugs. I mean, I didn’t even understand drugs, so I really didn’t relate.

How about Woodstock? Has that retained its glow for you?
Oh, I had a lovely time at Woodstock. Flattered me, in a way–you saw all the big bands and their equipment, and yet they still let the little pregnant virgin walk out there with her guitar and do her thing. It was wonderful. I mean, it wasn’t any fucking revolution; it was a three-day period during which people were decent to one another because they realized that if they weren’t, they’d all get hungry.

You seemed to be drifting away from the music business by 1979, the year you started Humanitas. What did you hope to accomplish with it?
I wanted my own organization. Instead of helping other people out with theirs, I wanted to be able to define what I did. It started with a study group in my house. We were visited by two boat people from Vietnam, and we decided to come out and openly criticize Hanoi on human rights. I’m still personally paying for that decision. People from the Left felt they’d been betrayed. What can I say? I had to make a choice between their feelings and the fact that there were between 200,000 and 800,000 political prisoners in Vietnam.

Radical lawyer William Kunstler attacked you at the time, contending it was impolitic to criticize any socialist government.
Well, I don’t even know him. And from his statement, I wouldn’t want to bother. I don’t want to waste time on somebody who feels that way, because our whole emphasis at Humanitas is to drop ideology and learn to see repression for what it is. A rubber-hose beating is a rubber-hose beating, whether it’s administered in South Africa or Latin America or Siberia.

The Vietnamese people suffer because of their corrupt government. Never having had any illusions about governments anywhere, that was no big shock for me. For some Godforsaken reason, I was given the gift of not having an ideology. I was associated with the Left because, of course, I worked mainly with the Left all through the Sixties. The right wing wasn’t interested in stopping the war, so you worked with the left wing–and they’re good people.

I feel bad that they felt injured. But I feel worse that they don’t see the picture in Vietnam for what it is. That government has betrayed its own people, and all of us, as well.

After all these years as a campaigner for peace and nonviolence, don’t you ever despair?
Well, no. One suffers under a marvelous illusion that as long as you’re working, something’s still happening. Although I joke about having no illusions, that may be the one that I hang on to. I mean, I don’t have illusions about other people–I really don’t. I assume that we will blow ourselves up. I don’t think people are gonna smart up in time. But, on the other hand, I don’t deny the possibility of hope. Action is the antidote to despair.

Do you think the old peace movement of the Sixties can be revived?
I’ve gone back to people from my past who helped teach me about nonviolence. I’ve met mostly with disillusionment, but that is simply because I know that what we need to move forward is something very, very new. I mean, dear, beloved pacifists, who are the salt of the earth – you cannot reach Middle America with those people. Their beards are too long. They don’t look right. They scare off the front lines.

Maybe you have to dress a different way. I mean, Gandhi was a stickler about it. He told the Indians–he embarrassed the Indian congress by standing up and saying that Indians have to stop spitting on the ground. Half the people got up and walked out, ’cause they didn’t want to admit that Indians spit on the floor, you know, and made it dirty and made people sick. And he said they had to have their clothes spotlessly clean or they shouldn’t be riding first class.

So I’m saying something has to be done about the peacenik image–and back in the Sixties, I was furious when people would say something like that to me. I’d say, well, goddamnit, we can look like what we please; it’s what we do that counts. But it’s a style that you either threaten people with or don’t, and you can do it on no money or you can do it on lots.

I’m going to sing for the French president’s wife––she’s willing to set up an organization that will fight for human rights in Afghanistan as well as El Salvador. That’s a very important move. So when I visit her at the palace, I’ll go dressed a certain way, you know? And when I go visiting the ghettoes in Venezuela, I’ll go dressed another way.

Wherever it is, you make the people you are with comfortable with what you have on–’cause they’re not gonna be comfortable with what you have to say. I’m sure I’ll be criticized: “Well, Joan has enough money to buy the clothes…”

There is that.

My living standard is, um . . . it’s high. It’s high, but it’s relative. I mean, compared to most L.A.-style entertainers, it’s modest. But compared to my friends in the movement, who live political lives, I live like a queen, you know? For me, if I’ve found a plateau where I’m happy, if I can keep that up, I don’t care. I’m not concerned with accumulating, that’s the difference.

Your ex-husband, David Harris, who sketched the years of your marriage in his book, Dreams Die Hard, seems to have been unnerved by your celebrity and relative wealth. Are you on good terms today?
Very good terms. It’s all based on whether he’s a good dad and I’m a good mom. That’s all we deal with. He’s not very political anymore.

What’s your love life like today? Are you involved with anyone right now?
Um, no. [Laughing] We were talking about this, and I said, well, maybe I’ll tell Rolling Stone; they’ll help me out. You see, whatever it says on my imaginary T-shirt, I am absolutely deluged with homosexual women at my concerts.

Maybe it’s because of that comment you made 10 years ago about being bisexual because, as an adolescent, you’d had a brief dalliance with another girl.

Is that what it is? But they were there before that, too. And I am not interested. The other day, I was talking to some guys, and… I am 42. It’s not so bad: I should be able to pick up somebody [laughing]. And one guy said, “We wanted to come meet you, but my friend said, ‘Oh, she’s back there with about 25 lesbians.'” Terrific.

So Joan can’t meet guys…
Just don’t put that in big print. I’d appreciate it. But it is curious. I’m aggressive, I’m strong, I hang out in the Nautilus [laughing]. So may be I scare men away. Someday my prince will come.

Didn’t you once have a passing fling with Kris Kristofferson?
[Grimacing] Yeah, we were great. He was an alcoholic at the time. He’s gonna read this and just shit. Hi, Kris!

Will Bob and Joan ever get together again–when they’re both 60 or something?
Spare us, please. Both of us.

Wouldn’t be a good idea?
Why don’t you ask Bob?

I came across this other piece of vintage gossip about you.

You and…John Lennon?
[Grimacing] I traveled with the Beatles for four days on one tour and, uh, ended up with John at one point, but we certainly did not have anything…I mean, it was wild times. This was their first or second trip to the States–the second, I think. I was performing in Red Rocks, above Denver, and they were on the next night, so I stayed over. T

here I was in this room full of hundreds of people, all scrambling around trying to figure out how they could get to their dressing room, and somebody came up and said, “The Beatles would like to meet you.” And I just instantly went to jelly. I got to their door trying to think of something clever to say and finally just put out my hand–and one by one they introduced themselves. Now, they had been on the cover of every single newspaper for a month, and they’re going, “Hullo, I’m George,” and “Muh name’s Ringo.” I said, “Yes, yes, I know.”

They were terribly funny and terribly sweet, and they invited me to stay on the road for their last three or four concerts. My tour was over, so I went with them––as I think anybody would have. You know, packed everything and whoopty-do, off I went. I saw all the inner workings: how you climb into Volkswagen buses and then send the limousine out to be beaten to death by loving fans. All those things. I was fascinated.

Then we ended up in this great big mansion in Los Angeles that somebody had given them. But big as it was, there weren’t really enough master bedrooms for everybody. And poor John was the one who had invited this little Mexican waif along–I don’t know what the hell they thought of me; they thought I was Florence Nightingale because I used to tend to the wounded at their concerts.

Anyway, so here we are in the mansion in Los Angeles, and we’ve run out of bedrooms, and they’ve sent their people out to bring in groupies so they can pick who they’re gonna, you know, hang out with. And these poor girls, just sitting downstairs waiting to see whether they’re gonna be picked by somebody––they don’t talk, they don’t even knit. They just sit there in these little outfits that they’ve worked on for months waiting for this thing to happen. And eventually a Beatle will come by and pick one of them and, you know, drag her off to his lair.

There was also a hotshot local–somebody there – I didn’t figure out exactly what she was, but she looked like a professional prostitute. Anyhow, John was stuck, having invited me and then not having anywhere to put me. So he offered me his room; it had a bed in it the size of a small swimming pool. I said, “Well, John, don’t worry, I’m not fussy about these things, you just come in and use the other side of the bed when you’re tired.” I didn’t want him to feel pressured, ’cause I figured they must feel pressured to perform all the time.

So I went to sleep, and he came in, in the middle of the night. And I think he felt compelled–, “Well, I’ve asked her and she is a star and oh, dear” –and he started coming on to me, very unenthusiastically. I said, “John, you know, I’m probably as tired as you are, and I don’t want you to feel you have to perform on my behalf.”

And he says [adopting Liverpudlian accent], “Oh, luvly! I mean, what a relief! Because you see, well, you might say I’ve already been fooked downstairs.” [Laughing] So we had a good laugh and went to sleep.

Did you ever sit around and sing with them?
Yeah, when we first met we sat around and strummed. But they were in love with Bob Dylan’s work, so I sang only Bobby’s stuff. I think that the extent of their interest in me, really, was my connection with Bob.

And Dylan was equally interested in them, too, wasn’t he?
I think so, sure. And then he and John went off on that wild trip to New York – John’s first crack at smoking dope, or whatever it was. One of those old days.

You seem serene and secure in your maturity now. What does the future hold?
You know, I remember Martin Luther King telling us about going to the mountaintop; it was before he gave that speech. He said, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” and he told us how it happened. It was when he was in solitary confinement in Alabama or someplace. They had dumped him in the hole, and it was black, he couldn’t see. And they shoved food into the room, but he was afraid to eat it. Starving, afraid–he said he got on his knees for hours. “And when I stood up,” he said, “it didn’t matter anymore.”

We tried to hold ourselves together when we knew what he meant––we knew he knew he was going to die. And he was ready to die; and he was ready to make his commitment about Vietnam––which is why he died. “I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve seen the promised land, and it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Oh, shit – I wanna be there! When somebody says to me – which they do like every five years–, ‘How does it feel to be over the hill,’ my response is, ‘I’m just heading up the mountain.’ I want to get a look at the promised land, so don’t bother me with the hill––on it, up it, over it, whatever. There are more important things.

In This Article: Coverwall, Joan Baez


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