AND A VOICE TO SING WITH -- A MEMOIR
by Joan Baez ©
1987 by Joan Baez
Front Cover: In the dressed-up 1950s, she was the dressed-down Barefoot Madonna, the Queen of Folk, an international star and Time magazine cover story at the age of eighteen. A decade later, she made headlines as the apostle of nonviolence, whose records went gold, and whose passion and energy made her a hero of the movements for civil rights in America and peace in Vietnam. When others left activism for the pleasures of the "Me Decade," she continued to take the cause of human rights to audiences around the world with her voice and her presence. And she opened -- as one of the few surviving stars of the 1960s -- the recent Live Aid extravaganza with a "Welcome, children of the eighties, this is your Woodstock."
Today, at forty-six, twenty-nine years and more than thirty albums after her achingly pure soprano voice catapulted her to fame at the 1958 Newport Folk Festival, Joan Baez is still active, creative, and in her vocal prime. She has survived and grown with the times, and her name is now a part of our history. In this disarmingly frank, moving, and sometimes very funny memoir, she tells the story of her life, her loves, her beliefs, and her music.
Written with an intense immediacy that comes from her mastery of the revealing detail, And a Voice to Sing With makes us feel we are there, with Joan, at the central events of our turbulent history -- from the smoke-filled coffeehouses of the 1950s folk scene, where she first performed, to the racially tense South of the early sixties, bringing support to terrorized blacks with Martin Luther King, Jr. We meet the Beatles on their first tour of the United States and go to jail with her for supporting the draft resistance. We huddle with her, terrified, in a bomb shelter in Hanoi and go on tour with her around the world -- to Woodstock, where she sang to hundreds of thousands in the middle of the night when she was six months pregnant, to France, Italy, and Spain where her concerts made headlines for the political confrontations they sparked, to a church in Poland where she sang to the brave workers of Solidarity.
Whether she is recounting her stormy love affair with a young, undiscovered, and very ambitious Bob Dylan -- taking us back to the days they met in a dingy Greenwich Village hotel, or years later, backstage on Dylan's Rolling Thunder tour when they fought bitterly -- or her secret affair with a woman, or her marriage to David Harris and the pain of their breakup, Joan displays both the openness and vulnerability that have touched us in her music and the passion and integrity that have marked her politics.
"I am not a saint. I am a noise," she wrote in a school essay at fifteen. And here Joan recounts how she infuriated and confounded the Daughters of the American Revolution and the IRS with her pacifism and recalls the time she playfully dared the saintly Thomas Merton to flee his monastery as they ate hamburgers in a field. She tells us about her principled clash with Jane Fonda over human rights abuses in Vietnam, how she chided Sakharov about disarmament after singing sweetly to him on the phone, how she intervened personally with Jimmy Carter to have the Seventh Fleet help the Boat People, and had the time of her life flirting recklessly with Don Johnson at Live Aid.
With the perspective that comes from being a single mother in middle age, she looks back fondly on the young girl with the million-dollar smile. She tells how she successfully overcame the melancholic introspection that was so much a part of her early life and how she has found joy in her deeply loving relationships with her family and most of all with her son, Gabriel. Joan is candid about her struggle to remain fresh as a performer and writes about how, as tastes in music and politics change, she has held to her childhood conviction that violence must be stopped and continues to put her career in the service of her beliefs.
Joan Baez is an extraordinary woman who has led an eventful and fascinating life. Her superbly written autobiography is as honest, unpretentious, and courageous as she is, and will stand as the testament of one of the most celebrated performers and activists of our time.
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