THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN was a hit on the radio, Joan Baez was the singer, and I wanted to buy the 45 rpm disc. I may have been a kid but recognized a good song. (At that age, I probably would not have appreciated hearing The Band’s version.) Catchy melody. Interesting story. Good singalong part. A hit. Something that should be part of my growing collection, right? 

What would the record have cost, a dollar or thereabouts? Would my mom give me a dollar to buy THE NIGHT THEY DROVE OLD DIXIE DOWN? 

“Joan Baez should be strung up by her toes!” 

Why would you want to string somebody up by their toes? It wouldn’t kill them. It probably wouldn’t even hurt too bad. More of a humiliation than anything else. Why would you want to humiliate a lady for singing a song? 

Apparently, my mom did not appreciate Joan Baez’s anti-war activism. (My mom supported Lt. William Calley in the aftermath of the My Lai Massacre…) I didn’t know nothing about any of that. I just wanted to buy a record. 

I don’t recall where I got the dollar, but I managed, and my mom never complained when I played the record. (Her love of music trumped her political objections.) Anyhow, it was the song I liked, not the singer, and Joan Baez rarely crossed my mind in the years that followed. 

Then I “discovered” Bob Dylan. When I bought my copy of HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, I was the only person I knew who was the least bit interested in him. Nobody I knew owned his records, though one of my cousins did express a liking for LAY LADY LAY. I’d heard LIKE A ROLLING STONE on the radio, and when I held the album jacket in my hands at the National Record Mart at South Hills Village Mall, the prose-poem on the back cover and the cool song titles—FROM A BUICK SIX, JUST LIKE TOM THUMB’S BLUES—convinced me that I was missing out on something important. 

Two phrases into TOMBSTONE BLUES, I knew that I’d be studying this this Dylan guy’s work and picking up each of his albums. BLOOD ON THE TRACKS. BLONDE ON BLONDE. DESIRE. BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME… 

I saw RENALDO AND CLARA and DON’T LOOK BACK in a movie theater, heard the ALL HALLOW’S EVE and ROYAL ALBERT HALL concerts on a bootleg LPs, and came to think of THE ROLLING THUNDER REVIEW as one of the high points of Dylan’s creative output. 

Joan Baez was all over this stuff, but as far as I was concerned, she was a mere player in Dylan’s story. I was too young to be sentimental about the failed revolution of the sixties, and seventies singer-songwriter soft-rock wasn’t for me. I was ready for the SEX PISTOLS and THE CLASH. Those bands seemed to be carrying the torch first raised by Bob Dylan and The Hawks. 

In the decades that followed, I did buy a Joan Baez album for Rosa Colucci, my bandmate in THE LITTLE WRETCHES, but the album turned out to be warped, warbled on the turntable, and there is no evidence that Rosa listened to it a single time. For my own enjoyment, I downloaded a collection of Joan Baez singing Dylan songs, but I continued to be disinterested in her or her original music. 

A few days ago, I was looking for Dylan-stuff on YouTube and found the channel of the late Peter Stone Brown (a person said to have played an important role in the folk music scene in Philadelphia). The channel was loaded with cool material. In one of the interviews, Dylan speaks with awe and reverence about Joan Baez as a person and as a musician, and he makes specific mention of DIAMONDS AND RUST. 

Well… Maybe I have been missing out on something. If Dylan himself endorses it, maybe I should look into it. 

I’ve listened to the album a few dozen times since I downloaded it a few days ago.The title track is everything Dylan said it was. Maybe I’m too heavily invested in the mythology of Bob Dylan, but every time I hear DIAMONDS AND RUST, it has me on the verge of tears. Add songs by John Prine, Janis Ian, The Allman Brothers, Jackson Browne, Stephen Foster, and Joan’s voice, and what can I say? 

DIAMONDS AND RUST feels like a missing piece to a puzzle I’ve been assembling my entire life. How did I manage to miss it? No matter. I found it now. And it fits perfectly. Yep, right there. See? I knew I’d find that piece one of these days. 

I wasn’t ready for it before. But I’m ready for it how. And I’m very glad to have found it. Thank you, Joan Baez. If anybody comes at your toes with string, I’ll defend you.

Leave a comment

Add comment