By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
Aaron suggested that there are enough songs about Bob Dylan to make a new series, so here we are, starting out with the Joan Baez songs.
And Tony picked up on the idea – so in this series, as before, much of the leg work is done by Aaron and the words are put into some sort of relevant order (or not as may be the case) by Tony. The “I” is thus Tony. And that is where we begin…
I’ve always been bemused by Joan Baez as a songwriter, because she is obviously brilliant at the art, and yet has released so little of her work. Or maybe she really has not written many songs; I’ve found eight of her compositions, but even if I’ve lost half of what she has created, that is still a tiny number for someone with such talent.
Dylan and Baez met in 1961, and at that time she was already ahead of Bob in the LP stakes – and two of her first three albums went gold. But by 1963 they were often to be found sharing a stage, and then as these things go, within a couple of years of that they were drifting apart.
But Baez was part of the Rolling Thunder Revue, and in Renaldo and Clara, and by then had already written “To Bobby”. This was released in 1972, possibly written in 1971.
I'll put flowers at your feet and I will sing to you so sweet And hope my words will carry home to your heart You left us marching on the road and said how heavy was the load But the years were young, the struggle barely had its start Do you hear the voices in the night, Bobby? They're crying for you See the children in the morning light, Bobby They're dying No one could say it like you said it, we'd only try and just forget it You stood alone upon the mountain till it was sinking And in a frenzy we tried to reach you With looks and letters we would beseech you Never knowing what, where or how you were thinking Do you hear the voices in the night, Bobby? They're crying for you See the children in the morning light, Bobby They're dying
Perhaps the pictures in the Times could no longer be put in rhymes When all the eyes of starving children are wide open You cast aside the cursed crown and put your magic into a sound That made me think your heart was aching or even broken But if God hears my complaint He will forgive you And so will I, with all respect, I'll just relive you And likewise, you must understand these things we give you Like these flowers at your door and scribbled notes about the war We're only saying the time is short and there is work to do And we're still marching in the streets with little victories and big defeats But there is joy and there is hope and there's a place for you And you have heard the voices in the night, Bobby They're crying for you See the children in the morning light, Bobby They're dying
This is an astoundingly powerful personal song to release as Baez seeks to persuade Dylan to return to political commentary, perhaps not grasping, as so many people did not, that Bob was for most of the time, not calling on people to rise up, but rather saying “this is how it is”.
Change he suggested, if it ever does come, just happens. The times are a changing, not because we are making changes for the better, but because things change. Hollis Brown shoots his wife and kids and then himself because life is so terrible. He doesn’t rise up and overthrow the state.
Now this of course is ludicrous. How can I perceive that Dylan is just saying change happens, while Joan Baez feels that by singing about it, change can be made to happen in the right way?
I don’t know, but people saw Dylan as a protest singer, and that thought dominated the feelings about some of his songs rather as those people who have seen Dylan as a religious songwriter have seen religion in every song.
In Chronicles Dylan said, “Joan Baez recorded a protest song about me that was getting big play, challenging me to get with it – come out and take charge, lead the masses – be an advocate, lead the crusade. The song called out to me from the radio like a public service announcement.”
But it was on Diamonds and Rust that Baez showed her extraordinary talent as a songwriter with the title track.
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 Yes I loved you dearly And if you're offering me diamonds and rust I've already paid
Even now all these years – and decades – since I first heard the song I marvel over it. It is so perfectly composed, so perfectly rounded, how could this be unless the songwriter had written hundreds before to get to this level?
Or if this what she could do straight off, why not write 100 more, because this is a profound work of art!
It was in the year that Diamonds and Rust was released that Dylan invited Joan Baez onto the Rolling Thunder Revue tour, and of course on the tour they did sing a few protest songs. But I am not sure any new ones emerged at that time.
And as a postscript, how about this thought.
Can you imagine someone writing a song for you with the lines
And you have heard the voices in the night, Bobby
They’re crying for you
See the children in the morning light, Bobby
What would you do?
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