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Joanie, or how to age with grace and fervour

In the distant past, Joan Baez sang with a voice shimmering with transparence and shot through with sweet purity. Children of the Sixties instantly identified with her songs of innocence and experience, tossing gauntlets of hope and visions of Utopia at our grubby, toe-ringed feet. We dreamed of wearing our hair long and ironed, entwined with meadow flowers; of possessing a demeanor at once careless and refined, of protesting against war and oppression with guitar chords and melancholy ballads of love and death. As she said recently on stage in Oxford, “The songs I sang were very long and sad and at least one person, and sometimes two, died.”
From her original collection of folk songs she sang “Lily of the West”, “House of the Rising Sun”, and “Railroad Bill.” Her once small, high, soprano has changed into a stronger, huskier mezzo and she wisely doesn’t attempt the soaring intervals of “Once I knew a pretty girl,” “Silver Dagger” and “Matty Groves”. In the fifty years since she first shared a stage with Dylan, her token protests became deeply politicized and spiritual. Her opening number was a new one for me and spoke of God and a simple belief in the goodness of life and man. The second was “Farewell Angelina.”

The audience garlanded her with affection and appreciation, that flew through the air and landed on stage of the New Theatre. There wasn’t much of a set- bare boards sparsely furnished with a large carmine sofa and a lamp. No one gave her a bouquet, yet she seemed to be surrounded by flowers. Joanie is still very beautiful with snow white hair cropped short instead of her former gleaming ebony locks. She wore blue jeans, tee-shirt and a mannish dark jacket; workmanlike but still elegant.

I had never heard of Dylan or Joanie when I arrived at my hippie Vermont college in 1963, an urban yokel from New Delhi: faded blue jeans, wild hair, six packs, guitars, Blue Grass, other sorts of grass, addressing profs by their first names, hearing the B Minor Mass and late Beethoven quartets for the first time, writing bad poetry, riding in the back seat of VW Beetles, digging trenches for the missiles of the Cuban crisis that never came and surprised by the taste of honey rather than sugar in tea.
Apples grew wild on the Vermont hills, then dropped and became mushy in the frosty nights.There were 84 students and 24 faculty staff. I realized I was a hippy at heart and my tasteful saris, bought in Cottage Industries, remained forever after inside my cabin trunk.


{ 5 comments… add one }
  • jillzandrewes March 24, 2012, 9:14 pm

    You write beautifully…… I love the flashback feelings the songs and pictures evoke .They were good days Love Jill XX

    • pratima March 24, 2012, 9:52 pm

      Thanks Jill- I think we have lived in the best of times…

  • Bina March 30, 2012, 1:35 am

    Joan Baez and Bob Dylan; the turbulent Vietnam War protests on college campuses; and the idealism and youthful vigour of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s …. these are my earliest indelible memories of Cambridge and the US. You have rekindled these again and for that, mucho gracias!

  • pratima April 1, 2012, 11:37 pm

    Thanks Bina, we were so lucky to be there and absorb it all. Wish I’d known you were in Cambridge- we’d sometimes go down in those beat-up Beetles for breakfast in Harvard Yard!

  • sally January 26, 2023, 10:08 am

    so evocative …. such a beautiful paean for youth and creative hope, for the hope of the young at heart. We all are. I am about to play some Joan B. Thank you for sharing; your writing is beautiful, sensitive and touchingly comic too.

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