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Wednesday 24 February 2010

Joan Baez

A womanly woman

She is over there on the right-hand column of my blog. She takes her rightful place amongst the woman I admire, among those womanly women who for some reason or another have caught my attention.

Tonight she is not only over there on the side of my blog, she has been here in Nürnberg. Yes, another one of my list of those who have visited Nürnberg. With me once again in the audience.

She was here thrilling the crowds with her strong yet at the same time fragile voice. She can still do those funny twiddly bits with her voice that never fail to send shivers down my spine and turn my toes up.

She was on-stage non-stop for almost two hours. It seemed a bit of a struggle towards the end but then she pulled it together with a sing-a-long number and then went bravely on to sing again without accompaniment.

She sang my favourite of all favourites. The song that tells the story of the man who couldn’t use his alibi to avoid being accused of a murder, as “he was lying in the arms of his best friend's wife”. The best friend's wife walks the streets in the dead of night in a long black veil.

She does those wonderful things with her voice in this song which is why I like it as well as the text.

And as always she sang about dreaming that she met Joe Hill, the man who says that he didn’t die. This is true, as for many he didn’t.

I am writing these notes as I wait for the tram, surrounded now, just as in the Meistersingerhalle, by aging hippies. Although it seems that hippies never age, they don’t grow old. Their hair, like Joan’s, just goes grey. We behave and dress just the same as we did at Woodstock, or how we would have done if we had been there.

The lady behind me in the tram queue has just said that it is like a gathering for old-age pensioners, I turned and smiled and said "I am not that old yet, even though the hair is as grey as Joan’s!"

Forever young

Joan sang about growing old. She hoped in her song that our hands would always be busy. I thought of my Mum at this point and how she always told me that deep inside she never felt any different to when she was twenty years old. She didn’t sound any different either, and her hands were always busy too.

Joan Baez doesn’t look old but she does appear a little frail. She stands and walks tall, her posture as upright as it always was. But she now appears a little stiff, a little brittle, fragile, although her fingers still glided effortlessly over the strings of her guitar and she stood while she sang for the whole evening.

The first time that I saw her at the Meistersingerhalle, twelve years ago now, she asked for a stool at half-time and kicked her shoes off!

She may have looked a bit brittle but not so her voice. She can still belt them out to the back of the hall, hitting the high notes just as well as the really low ones. She is a very clever musician and she has a clever band of musicians around her. I think that between them they have arranged and re-arranged songs to suit the voice of the sixty-seven-year-old Joan Baez, rather than the thirty-five year old Joan Baez.

It was amazing to hear the strength in her voice increase when she sang in Spanish. There really was a difference.

Of course when she sang Sag mir wo die Blumen sind she had several hundred people joining in and she was able to stop singing herself in places when we were giving it all we could. I would actually like to say a big thank you here to my singing stroke-client, who taught me 'Where have all the flowers gone?' in German just so that I was able to join in this evening.

Fifty years in the business

She promised to give us a bit of everything from then till now. Which she did. I don’t claim to have been there from the beginning but I was quite young when I jumped on the hippy bandwagon. It was quite early on in my arty life that I got to know of the Bob Dylan brigade.

I wondered as I listened this evening whether the German audience knew what she was singing about. For most of the evening her mask-like face mirrored the tone of the majority of the songs, only breaking into a smile to receive the standing ovation,.

It was quite a sombre set.

When Joan spoke at the beginning of the concert about her fifty years in the business I pondered on my own life. I thought about my own daily performances after thirty years in the business and wondered whether my own voice will hold out after a three-hour programme like it did in today’s stroke group, in fifteen years time when I too shall be sixty-seven!

I will keep Joan Baez as my hero, as my guide, and will prepare soothing teas and cough mixtures to take on to my stage with me, as she did tonight. I will imitate her upright posture and try to find a strength like hers.

I realised while watching and listening why she is on my list of heroes, over there to the right, in the womanly-women column. She looked lovely, just a bit older, she was elegantly dressed in black and she is tough. She is still fighting, hoping through the words of her songs and her concerts, to make a difference in the world. That is why she is up there high on my list, with the likes of Tina Turner, Katherine Hepburn, Miss Marples and Mária Hári.


I went to this concert tonight alone. I chose to go alone. It was the first time that I have done this and it was brilliant.

There was something special about being there alone, I felt like Joan Baez was singing especially for me. I had my binoculars with me, which sort of blocks everyone else out, and I wallowed in being sung to for two whole hours.

I enjoyed myself at that concert tonight more than any other one I have ever been too, except of course Tina Turner's!

1 comment:

Adelaide Dupont said...

I think our brains and self-images peak at 20 or 25, which might explain your Mum.

And Baez has a spirit which might never grow old.

Her 21st century recordings are great.

My very favourite Baez song is from Please come to Boston. I also love I shall be released and Scarletto and Vanzetti.