I was feeling melancholy after watching a performance by Judy Collins on PBS last night. My mind drifted to a song from a contemporary of hers, Joan Baez. My brother introduced me to Baez, as she was a strident voice for the disenfranchised and often sang at marches or events to bring attention to the cause. Her most popular was song was a rendition of “The Night they Drove Ol’ Dixie Down,” which I find ironic, as she spoke often against racism, in general, but especially in the south.
Yet, my favorite song of hers has nothing to do with causes. It is about the human nature of reflection and how memories can be both good and bad, especially with relationships that waned. The best of Joan Baez to me is found in “Diamonds and Rust” which is a fitting description of our memories. Here are the lyrics. At the conclusion, there is a link to the song which is worth the visit, as her melancholy guitar playing and voice make the song resonate even more.
Well I’ll be damned, here comes your ghost again. But that’s not unusual. It’s just that the moon is full. And you happened to call.
And here I sit, hand on the telephone. Hearing a voice I’d known a couple of light years ago. Heading straight for a fall.
As I remember your eyes were bluer than robin’s eggs. “My poetry was lousy”, you said. Where are you calling from? A booth in the Midwest.
Ten years ago I bought you some cuff links. You brought me something. And we both know what memories can bring They bring diamonds and rust.
You burst on the scene already a legend. The unwashed phenomenon. The original vagabond. You strayed into my arms.
And there you stayed temporarily lost at sea. The Madonna was yours for free. Yes the girl on the half-shell. Would keep you unharmed.
Now I see you standing with brown leaves falling around. An’ snow in your hair. Now you’re smiling out the window of that crummy hotel over Washington Square.
Our breath comes out white clouds mingles and hangs in the air .Speaking strictly for me, we both could have died then and there.
Now you’re telling me, you’re not nostalgic. Then give me another word for it. You, who are so good with words. And at keeping things vague.
‘Cause I need some of that vagueness now. It’s all come back too clearly. I once loved you dearly. And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust. Well, I’ll already paid…
If you don’t know her work, please enjoy and investigate further. She writes meaningful lyrics and captures things well. She could hold her own with many more well-known contemporaries. Oftentimes, it is these “under the radar screen” gems that stand the test of time. She was my Janis Ian before Janis came around. I would love to hear your thoughts on Baez and learn of your favorites.