United States singer Joan Baez interviewed


This music video is called JOAN BAEZ (full concert, 1965).

From weekly The Observer in Britain:

Joan Baez: Singer, activist, peacenik, lover, legend

Joan Baez has had an extraordinary life. Ahead of her appearance at the Royal Festival Hall, and at the age of 73, she talks to Lawrence Donegan

Sunday 31 August 2014

Angry wasps are swarming in the eaves of Joan Baez’s Californian home, but otherwise all is as it should be in the life of a woman who has devoted herself to the cause of peace. The breeze is warm, the incense sticks are billowing out smoke and the conversation is mellow.

Ask her about songwriting (she hasn’t written a song of her own for 25 years) and she says: “So I called Janis Ian and I said: ‘Janis, I can’t write – what shall I do?’ And she says: ‘It’s very simple. Look around the room, pick an object and then just write whatever comes into your head.’ So I did. And I wrote one of the best songs I have ever written.

“It’s called ‘Coconuts’. I wanted to start performing it, but my manager was horrified. He thought people would really love it and I would become known as the Coconut song woman.”

This video is called Coconuts – Joan Baez at Kidzstock, June 19, 2010.

Then there was the time the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, a near neighbour and a former lover, called to ask if she would give him a piano lesson. “I told him I wasn’t much of a piano player, but I knew where middle C was, but he said, ‘Come on over’ so I did. When I got there it was just Steve in the big, empty rotunda of his house – there was no furniture – sitting behind a Bösendorfer (a particularly expensive make of piano). He couldn’t play a note.”

Baez doesn’t tell such anecdotes to impress but to amuse both the listener and herself. She is aware of her own status – legendaryness, she mockingly says – and finds it vaguely absurd. “I once had this Australian journalist call me and she said to me: ‘Has it ever occurred to you that you are the only woman in the world to have seen both Steve Jobs and Bob Dylan naked?’ I told her: ‘But not at the same time.’”

The notion of Baez the doubt-ridden folk singer could hardly be in greater contrast to her alter-ego, Baez the activist. When it comes to politics, she has always known where she stood. The world has never measured up to her ideas of fairness and equality, not today and not when she was a 15-year-old refusing to salute the American flag. Eight years later, her schoolgirl radicalism had moved on to the national stage. She was one of the principal performers at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the day on which Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech. “The influx of people into the city was remarkable, like an ocean flooding in,’’ she says when asked for her recollections of the day. Then when asked about King himself: “What people don’t realise about him was that he was a very funny man.’’

The passing of the Civil Rights Act and King’s subsequent assassination robbed the movement of much of its power, while the onset of the Vietnam war turned the attention of activists towards events on the other side of the world. Baez, again, was at the forefront of a protest movement.

In 1972 she travelled to Hanoi with a peace delegation and was caught in the middle of an American bombing campaign on the North Vietnamese capital that lasted 12 days. “We spent the whole time in the basement of our hotel,’’ she recalls. “I have never been so afraid in my life. I thought I was going to die. But I learned something – when the flames start coming towards you everyone starts praying, even the atheists and the agnostics, but when the flames start fading away we all go back to the structures and beliefs that we had before.” For Baez, the Hanoi experience made her even more determinedly radical than she had been. What kept her going? “The belief that what I was doing was right.”

For Baez, no political leader measured up to King until Barack Obama came along and ran for president. But the reality of his victory has been a disappointment. “I wish that Obama had a different enough personality that he would have stayed on the streets. If he had done that then he would have been the closest thing we ever had to King. He had the attention and support of hundreds of millions of people and now there isn’t much of anything.” …

She sacrificed much, not least in a musical sense. Expending so much time and energy on activism cost her commercially. Record companies were not exactly lining up to invest in an “act” so hell-bent on lecturing America about its failings. …

As for the rest of the world and its concerns, Baez is willing to offer her personal support to causes that are particularly close to her heart, most notably the campaign against the death penalty in the United States. But she is no longer first to the barricades when the cry of radicalism is raised. “People ask me what I’m going to do and I say back to them: ‘No, the question is what are you going to do?’”

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