And a Voice to Sing With

“I like to show off,” Joan Baez wrote in a high school essay in 1955, adding a few lines later, “I always like to stick up for the underdog.” These strands merged in the early 1960’s when Baez, after a brief apprenticeship in the coffeehouses of Harvard Square, became the Queen of Folk Music, a barefooted, long-haired icon of the generation-wide movement that made music an act of conscience.

Baez’s “achingly pure soprano” (according to Bob Shelton of THE NEW YORK TIMES) put her albums on top of the pop charts and sold out concert tours all over the world. Singing “We Shall Overcome” with Martin Luther King in Birmingham, refusing to pay the defense portion of her income tax, and being jailed for protesting the Vietnam War kept her name in the headlines. At Woodstock, when she was married to David Harris, the hailed hero of draft resistance, she performed even though she was six months pregnant.

Today, at forty-six and with her hair fashionably short, Baez remembers the lows as well as the highs--her chronic attacks of nervous stomach, the jealousies that soured her affair with Bob Dylan, and the constant infighting of dedicated believers in nonviolence. She is also frank about the erosion of her popularity--"the painful and humiliating process of discovering that...I was no longer timely.”

Life, however, has not embittered Baez. She can laugh at the irony of opening 1985’s Live Aid concert and then being ignored by the younger stars; she made the day enjoyable by flirting wildly with MIAMI VICE’s Don Johnson. Still in her vocal prime, she declares that she does not “wish to be relegated to obscurity, antiquity, or somebody else’s dewy-eyed nostalgia.” If Baez can get the relaxed and mature voice that animates this memoir on record, the Queen of Folk could be due for a comeback.