Lawrence Donegan “Joan Baez: Singer, activist, peacenik, lover, legend” http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/aug/31/joan-baez-singer-activist-peacenik-lover-legend-royal-festival-hall
BAEZ is part Spanish and part Scottish – a troublesome genealogical mix for a kid who spent many of her formative years in southern California. “The white kids weren’t really interested in me and the Mexican kids didn’t like me because I was quite different from them. So when I finally picked up the ukulele and started singing it was good for my self-image,’’ she recalls. “The white kids came to listen to me. I was like a little court jester. I liked the attention and I liked being accepted, even if it was only for that.”
Yet she insists she was driven for a long time by a sense of doubt, not least about her musical talent. “I didn’t realise my voice was anything special for a bunch of years. I just thought that if anyone put their mind to it they could sing,’’ she says, laughing. Was there a particular moment when she realised she might possess a certain star quality? “Not really, but there were lots of little hallelujah moments over the years. I would go to a folk club and there would be all kinds of people on stage singing and I would notice that my voice was something a little special. And as the years go by and you make it on the golden railway to ‘legend-ism’ you just accept that maybe you do have something.”
She did indeed have something for the best part of five decades. And then she didn’t. “About three years ago I was ready to throw in the towel. My voice had gotten unmanageable. I didn’t hate it, but I hated being preoccupied with trying to get a high note right, not getting to what I wanted to hear. People wouldn’t come up and tell you the truth, they say you sound the way you always did. Don’t listen to them,’’ she laughs.
As a last resort she went to an ear, nose and throat specialist on the advice of a friend. The outcome was a revelation. “We concluded that I was so busy trying not to hear the current voice (especially the high notes) that I just locked everything up. He then sent me to his vocal therapist, a lovely young woman who opened up a whole new tool box. After two lessons I went on tour and the entire group noticed the change. The voice returned and the notes started to come back.”
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*2 , 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.”
Of all the leaders she has known, only the late Vaclav Havel measured up her idea of what a leader should be. “Aside from being a poet and a writer and a politician, he had this enormous brain. But the thing that made him for me was that he was willing to take risks. Risks, risks, risks.”
To illustrate she tells a story about a concert she gave in Bratislava in 1989 a few months before the revolution that chased the Soviets out of what was then Czechoslovakia. Havel turned up to give her support and offer ideas on how she might advance his cause. “My concert was being televised so he and I came up with this plan that I should learn some phonetic Czech, record it and put it on the headphone in my ear. At a certain moment I will say in Czech: ‘Now I would like to introduce you to my dear friend Vaclav Havel’.
“So that’s exactly what I did. The next thing you know, the TV broadcast clicked off and that was that.”
あと、ルー・リード*4のこと、スティーヴ・ジョブズ*5のこと、勿論ボブ・ディランのことも語られている。彼女は”the only woman in the world to have seen both Steve Jobs and Bob Dylan naked”であるのだ。
*1:Mentioned in http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20050526 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060122/1137908142 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20080206/1202275989 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20101231/1293772306
*2:See Clancy Sigal “Remembering my time at the 1963 March on Washington” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/24/march-on-washington-anniversary-martin-luther-king
*3:See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20111225/1324782469 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20111231/1325294523 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20131206/1386343315
*4:See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20060726/1153881336 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20081211/1229000479 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20100705/1278354592 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20111231/1325294523 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20130522/1369244717 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20131028/1382925103
*5:See also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20100804/1280885816 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20111009/1318181136 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20110904/1315076813 http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20111006/1317915980