She’s still my #1
I was barely 13 when I came back from school at lunch time, urging my mother to listen to a tape a friend of mine had introduced me too. She tried to put it off, as she had until then successfully kept me from knowing anything other than classic country, the Beatles and Edith Piaf. Since I had gotten ‘corrupted’ by the radio and my friends, she got headaches listening to pretty much anything I was now discovering.
“Maybe later”, she tried again.
But I was determined:
“Mum, you’ve just got to hear this, this woman is absolutely AMAZING!”
And so I played ‘Prison Trilogy’. All of a sudden my mother started laughing:
“I know her. This is not a new artist at all.” She left her cooking and ascended into the attic. After a few minutes she came back with a few records.
“‘Farewell Angelina’, still my all time favourite. Joan Baez and I, we’re the same generation, famous 68ers.”
Thinking back, I’ve never heard the end of that number being mentioned, every single time Baez is playing somewhere. I’m to the point that I just give her a look “I know Mum”, hoping it will keep her from rubbing it in. Yes, there is no way my generation is ever going to live up to that generation. Even so, that moment probably saved our relationship throughout my teenage years. There aren’t too many teenagers that can listen to the same music as their parents, not to mention go to the same concerts.
My school buddies continued dancing to Madonna and Michael Jackson, meanwhile I started my Baez song collection, listening to words that meant something, dreaming of a world that revolved around important issues, rather than the clothes I wore or the guys that (didn’t) glanced at me during the 10 o’clock break. I learnt about the civil rights movement, the challenges immigrants face, overflowing prisons, the Holocaust, Vietnam, Cambodia, Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan – mostly by asking my mother anything I didn’t understand or by researching library books.
Every time Joan played in Switzerland, my Mum, my sister and myself would drive to see her, and even if she wasn’t in concert, her tapes and later CDs were always available in my Mum’s car. I know all the words of most albums. Although I’ve never been quite able to explain it, I always felt the strength of that incredible woman and in the back of my head kept wishing to grow up to be at least half the woman she is. And when thinking back to some of my happiest family moments it would be singing Diamonds and Rust with my mother or laughing at the part where Joan takes on Dylan’s voice.
Saturday Hubby and I drove downtown to see Joan perform at the famous Massey Hall. Unlike in 2003 at the Convocation Hall concert, there now seemed to be a few people my age in the crowd. I couldn’t help but wondering whether they discovered her by themselves or through their parents. The lights went dark and there she was, 67 years of age, but as graceful and grounded as I remembered her. Or maybe even a bit more. Yes, she may have gotten older but somethings never change; I smiled at her once again wearing a scarf, maybe to protect her throat or maybe, like I often do, as an adult type of safety blanket. Afterall, having read her biography more than once, I am well aware of the stage fright she used to have.
There is roaring applause. Joan has come to celebrate not only the feeling of her country ‘having had a bath’ but also her 50 years in the music business.
“The crazy thing is, I’m still here doing it, and you’re still coming to watch it.”
Yes, and I’ll be coming again should I get the chance, although I think this may be the last.
Her voice of course isn’t quite that of the first recording of ‘Farewell Angelina’, but it hasn’t lost any of its beauty and character. In fact, from the first song my eyes are filled with tears of joy. I close them and just listen. God shows Himself in many different ways, and tonight it’s through her voice and me being able to witness it. It’s not just her voice that gets me emotional. As she continues through her set, speaking to us between songs, I reflect back on all I know about her.
I think about her mother who wrote me a letter once and am grateful that she in her now mid-nineties is still alive. I think about the life Joan has lived, the times she witnessed and the friends/ enemies she’s had. I think about how she has ‘stayed’ with me, and how I am now sitting once again in the audience, this time with my husband and how incredible it is to hear his beautiful voice along hers singing “they may say we are dreamers, but we’re not the only ones, let’s hope some day they’ll join us, and the world will live as one”. I think about the youth today, the causes that still need fighting for, and a (maybe wrongly perceived) absence of unity in those fights and a media who has chosen to entertain rather than educate. And I think about my mother, one of the famous 68 generation, who is waking up alone, half a world away in Thailand, determined to reap the time retirement offers to catch up on some traveling and exploring the parts of the world she never got to see.
A 100 minutes of songs – I love them all, the new ones like ‘God is God’ (Steve Earle) or ‘Scarlet Tide’ (Elvis Costello/Joseph Henry Burnett), the folk songs, the protest songs, the love songs. But it so much more than the songs. It’s voice, the legend, the woman, the role model, the memories, and maybe most important proof that life is about much more than just standing by the sidelines.
So whether this was the last time I get to see you in concert or not, thank you Joan, not ‘just’ for the music, but for teaching me what Madonna never could.
(Below a rendition of Steve Earle’s “Christmas in Washington”, this year, however in Milano rather than Toronto. The video may a bit a shaky but it was the closest I could find resembling my experience).