These days, the warbling falsetto that Baez brought to We Shall Overcome and Babe I’m Gonna Leave You in the Sixties has been deepened by age, but she’s still using the songs to get across her core messages of pacifism, social responsibility and, for the first time, party allegiance, saying of her endorsement of Barack Obama: “For years I chose not to engage in party politics. At this time, however, changing that posture feels like the responsible thing to do.”
Her strident sincerity is something that doesn’t always sit well with audiences as radical politics fall in and out of fashion. “After 9/11 nobody wanted to hear anything bad about America,” says Baez, growing animated as she enters into political territory. “Nobody loves a war better than the President, and a few years ago it got to the point where if I said anything I truly believed about the Iraq war or global warming during a concert, people would get up and leave. That’s fine with me. Actually, it’s a badge of honour.”
“Little by little it became clear that Bush was bizarre — and dangerous,” she says. “I would do concerts where I would see people in the audience sitting with their arms crossed, looking angry as I said: ‘I was right 40 years ago and I am right now!’ and throw my fist in the air. Now they’re listening. Bush’s great trick is to suggest that to go against him is to be unpatriotic. Slowly people realised that.”
In 1963 Baez was given the job of driving King and Jesse Jackson from an airport to a march. “They laughed all the time and told racist jokes about themselves, and I realised that nobody could see that side of them. They had to be seen as serious, and I related to that. We got to a restaurant and I asked them: ‘Don’t you have a big march to organise?’ They said: ‘We just have.’ You get a public image that you have to live up to but your private reality is often very different."
She might not exactly agree with my way of putting it, but she's right that it's time for all us old farts to sharpen up those rusty bayonets and make sure the rifle bolt is oiled and smooth.
Enjoy the article, and may you too stay forever young.