She loved him, for sure. She loved that Bob Zimmerman who renamed himself Dylan and the song ‘Diamonds and Rust’ that she wrote a dozen years after their affair proves it. I’ve always been haunted by the image in it of her watching him, his back toward her, as he looked out the window of a rundown hotel in the Village; the brave vulnerability in that line “speaking strictly for me we both could have died then and there.” In that moment anyway, she was ecstatically happy.
She wrote ‘Diamonds and Rust’ the same year she let someone shoot this brief footage of her in a bar where she has gone to meet her former lover. In the two-minute segment she suggestively caresses her shot glass, arches her back, comes in too close, far too close to this man who no longer loves her. It squeezes the heart to see it. Slide the bar in to about one minutes 25 seconds marker to catch the brief, brief scene.
So apparently there was sex between them; however there is never only sex between two people. If they sleep together over a period of time it is never ‘only’ sex I don’t think. I remember feeling cloven in two the first time I read the book by Evelyn and James Whitehead called The Sense of Sexuality. They assert that in sex very subtle but real promises are always made, promises not well kept in casual encounters. “They need a home, a place in which to grow.” We also need to rescue Eros from its contemporary degraded connotation as the merely erotic, they say. In classical times, people understood Eros to represent our passionate drive for life and growth. “It moves in all our longings to make contact, to be quite literally in touch. That’s Eros, whereas intimacy refers to the many ways we hold one another. As friends we hold one another in affection. As colleagues, we hold one another accountable in work. Intimacy is part of sex but it encompasses more than sex they say. “An intimate relationship draws us close enough to one another that we are changed in the process”.
Maybe that’s what happened between these two.
Anyway here footage from the 2005 Scorsese documentary No Direction Home. Watch it and think about who you have linked your life to, whether in passion, or work, or devotion to a cause; then think what the two of you together have put in the world as a result.
We don’t know what there was between this Baez and Dylan when they were this young in a long-gone world. We do know what they did together; we know the songs he wrote and she sang in that long ago time. Dylan himself speaks about four minutes and again at eleven minutes in. The best part though is Joan, all grown up in her 60s, looking back with such kind wisdom at the boy who broke her heart.
Speaking of Joan Baez, here she is in that American Masters documentary from 2009, reflecting on her early family life and her relationship to her sister Mimi, seen on the left.
Mimi too was a folk singer, who married fellow folkie Richard Fariňa at 19 and lived happily with him until his death at age 29 (He and Jim Croce, boy. Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Richie Valens, Patsy Cline, Aaliyah, John Denver, Ricky Nelson: all lost in crashes both on land and in the air.)
Joan just loved little Mimi. The images of them as little girls are so tender as to break your heart. In the footage below she talks about her dad’s work for the military in the early years, work that eventually caused him to feel conflicted. He became a Quaker; they all became Quakers and he went to work for Unesco and lived in Iraq where they witnessed extreme poverty. And yet as Joan says, she has memories from her time in Baghdad that are inexpressible beautiful. Watch just a little if not all:
And here is another tender bit of video while we are at it, of Joan and Mimi signing “I Shall Be Released” in a prison. At one point during this concert she says to the audience how happy they are to be there. “Some prisons don’t let us in even.”
”The don’t let us OUT!” calls an inmate from the audience and everyone cracks up. That’s kind of a high point here. Another one occurs at around three minutes in, when she brings on the darling blue-eyed Mimi to join her on a song in Spanish and the prisoners explode in unfeigned delighted applause.
You look at their faces, mostly brown and black, and you have to ask yourselves some questions about our justice system. Where’s the white kid busted for distribution of cocaine, or the one that killed his parents? Where is that Fortunate Son? Well I’m taking a turn down a long road here so let me back up and just show you this:
I feel like I went to high school with Elton John; that’s how connected to him I feel. When I first heard “Your Song” on the radio I felt this shudder of familiarity. Was I thinking I knew that voice? Or was it those lovely understated words, penned by the great Bernie Taupin? Maybe anyone who was around in the 70s gets that twinge of nostalgia at the thought of a pair of platform shoes. Elton took the fashions of that decade and just kind of magnified them.
But really my topic today is how everyone thinks he’s an expert on the celebrities. Back in the 60s people around here would say “Oh sure Joan Baez, she really slept around.” That that casual piece of slander made me furious and kept me that even after I saw the 2009 American Masters documentary about her where she says basically ‘I was pretty promiscuous for a while there, whatever that was all about.” (Ah what a great human being she really is. In my book she took that sliver-of-mercury voice God gave her and wrapped a whole lot of goodness around it.)
Here’s what I’m sayin’: Just because someone who supposedly knows someone swears that story about Richard Gere, say, is really true doesn’t mean a thing . To that I say “Eh.” My kid was in Mark Zuckerberg’s class at Harvard and though he ‘knew’ him and saw him around he doesn’t pretend to know a thing worth mentioning about him. I was in Julie Nixon’s class at Smith but I too feel I can say nothing at all about what she was like except to mention that she had a rapid blink, probably arising from the fact that her dad was the president – and that in an age when most men looked like the Twelve Apostle she was shadowed wherever she went by a couple of buzzcut Secret Service agents straight out of Central Casting.
I did ride down in the elevator of the Hotel Northampton with her mother Pat Nixon when we were both overnight guests there. She had stayed there because she was visiting Julie and her new husband David Eisenhower. I was there because by the time I got drinking those 25-cent beers at the City Cafe it was too late to get back into the dorm. I called in the overnight as you had to do in those days and the local boy I was with gallantly got me a room that I hasten to add he never set foot in. He pressed the Up button on the elevator, gave me a peck on the cheek and went back to the bar to meet up with his buds.
Ancient history you say? Nah, it was only yesterday. My hero Thoreau said it: ““Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.” (My mom went to high school with him I think.)
Now let’s bow our heads and listen to Elton when he was but lad in his early 20s.