Published on
The Contra Costa Times

Joan Baez Talks Up Two Men in Her Life: Obama and Steve Earle

Jim Harrington

Peace activist and singer Joan Baez performs on stage during a free performance on the National Mall near the Ellipse in conjunction with anti-war demonstration Saturday, Sept. 24, 2005 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) ( PABLO MARTINEZ MONSVAIS )

Joan Baez
has a brand-new album out. She's also currently celebrating 50 years in
the industry. And the vocalist is in the midst of a national tour,
which touches down at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Tuesday
and Wednesday.

Yet, anybody who knows anything about Baez -
arguably the quintessential female protest singer, and one who has lent
her voice to countless social reforms and political drives - should
know that music isn't the first thing that she wants to talk about
these days.

"I'm just as elated as the most elated person out
there," says the 67-year-old Woodside resident during a recent phone
interview. "I feel like Obama's not going to embarrass me. And I'm
tired of being embarrassed."

The folk music legend seemingly
always has been interested in social and political issues. She
committed her first act of civil disobedience as a 16-year-old student
at Palo Alto High School, when she refused to participate in the
school's air-raid drill, and she's been busy fighting the good fight
ever since.

Her efforts continue with her new album, "Day After
Tomorrow." The 10-track record offers stirring commentary about the
state of modern affairs, most emphatically addressing life during
wartime, which she does through such exquisite gems as the Elvis
Costello-T Bone Burnett composition "Scarlet Tide" and the Tom
Waits-penned title track. The latter, originally released on the
eccentric songwriter's "Real Gone" (2004), is a real stunner, one that perfectly fits Baez's three-octave voice.

Baez says she was "knocked out" the first time she heard Waits' "Day After Tomorrow."

was one of those songs where there was no question that it was right
for me," she says. "I'm just glad that (Waits) wrote it."

highlights from the record include the newly penned compositions "I Am
a Wanderer" and "God Is God," as well as the a cappella workout on
"Jericho Road." All three of those tunes were written by
alt-country/Americana star Steve Earle.

The album is the third
offering in what might someday be commonly referenced as Baez's "Steve
Earle era." That chapter of her career began in 2003 with Baez's "Dark
Chords on a Big Guitar" album, which featured what many consider to be
the definitive interpretation of Earle's "Christmas in Washington."

gorgeous, forlorn number has become a Baez concert staple, one that is
as eagerly anticipated by fans as any of the singer's classic hits
(such as her covers of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down"
and Phil Ochs' "There But for Fortune").


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"It's a highlight every
night," Baez says of her performances of "Christmas in Washington."
"There's something about that song that really connects with the

The relationship between singer and songwriter would
strengthen with the 2005 live disc "Bowery Songs," which included a
rendition of Earle's "Jerusalem," and rise to new heights with "Day
After Tomorrow."

Besides contributing songs to the album, Earle
played guitar and other, lesser-known instruments (harmonium, anyone?),
added harmony vocals and served as the producer on the new album. The
collaborative effort has proved to be a modest hit - "Day After
Tomorrow" debuted on the pop charts in September at No. 128, marking
Baez's first entry into the Billboard Top 200 in 29 years. (Her last
album to chart was 1979's "Honest Lullaby," which hit no. 113.)

What's more significant, however, is that Baez is happy with how her latest collaboration with Earle turned out.

"This record is really what I wanted it to be," she says.

After Tomorrow" is Baez's 24th studio album, and the latest chapter in
one of popular music's longest-running success stories. What would she
have said, one wonders, if a person would have told her back in 1958
that she was embarking on a 50-plus-year musical career?

you are at that age, you don't really think in years," she says. "I
would have probably looked at (the person) and changed the subject."

is pretty much what happens when talk turns to her 25th studio album.
She hasn't put much thought into it, but her hunch is that it will
reflect the results of the recent presidential election.

"I think
(I'll ride) this wave of general excitement, of Obama Land," she says.
"I think that will probably influence whatever I do next."

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