By Bob Andelman
Originally published July 1, 1985
Three summertime faces of Joan Baez:
Singing in a recent episode of the syndicated TV show Fame, helping the students of a performing arts school understand the importance of speaking up for their futures relative to a nuclear freeze;
Singing in the upcoming July 13 “Live Aid” concert in Philadelphia – alongside Mick Jagger and Duran Duran – in a benefit for the starving in Ethiopia, and;
Singing at Ruth Eckerd Hall before a sold-out crowd on Sunday night, despite the lingering after-effects of a bout with laryngitis. ,’.
Baez, is more visible in the summer of 1985 than she has been in years, full of irrepressible spirit and determination, still ambitious to educate minds and change perceived injustices, yet balanced by the times rind their limitations.
Baez played 13 songs in about 70 minutes, apologizing frequently for the condition of what she felt was a ravaged voice. Actually, the 43-year-old singer hit her notes more than she missed and even if she did miss, there gill are very few people who could do better.
Besides her music, the most entertaining taste Baez left was not of her left-wing politics and convictions for her humor.
She introduced a new song called “Recently” this way: “This is the song I wrote for people my age who get married, had children, got divorced, went through bitterness and then more bitterness . . . This song helped me – for about an hour and a half.”
Her impression of friend Bob Dylan near the end of “Lily, Rosemary and The Jack of Hearts” (which he wrote) was hilarious, as was her jabs at Tina Turner before singing a surprisingly touching acoustic cover of “Private Dancer.”
There were political moments, of course. “Everything happened in the ‘60s, but if we don’t do anything in the ‘80s, we won’t have the ‘90s,” she said before singing “Children of the ‘80s.” The funny, sometimes poignant lyrics ticked off current interests, music, style in health and fashion – and their attendant hypocrasies.
“Warriors of the Surf” had the best line of the night:
“You prove you’re needy by eating dog food;
“One of these days, the Alpo’s gonna hit the fan.”
Another song, “Freedom,” had a pedigree as riveting as its lyrics. Baez said she had once sung it to wake up Martin Luther King Jr., as well as to the dissident Sakharovs in the Soviet Union, from the roof of a building in Hanoi during a bombing raid, and more recently, for Bishop Desmond Tutu in San Francisco.
To give her voice a break, Baez read an excerpt from a book she is, writing. It provided vivid imagery, first from her kitchen window, then out into the heavens of Star Wars, down to earth in Nicaragua and the American farmland, off to the American hostages in Beirut, to Israel for the release of Shiite prisoners “not because of pressure but because it’s a good time of year,” and finally back to things flowery and sweet. It was “Doonesbury,” “Bloom County,” the Democratic Party and everything to the left rolled into one, and left a desire for a look at the rest of the book in the future.
Copyright 2018 Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman