Thursday, September 3, 2009

Joan Baez: Feet of Clay

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock I've been reading Joan Baez's autobiography published in 1987. This is a book I picked up at a book sale quite some time ago and apparently there was a good reason it stayed in my pile of books to be read. I wasn't at Woodstock, you understand, although I've heard that if you remember Woodstock, you weren't there. No, that drug scene wasn't for me at all; I was too old to be drawn into it.

At any rate, I always loved Joan Baez's voice and her songs, and I admired her involvement with the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam-War movement. I thought she was very brave to stand on the front lines of those movements and risk the possible consequences of her actions.

I should never have read this autobiography. Now I know that not only was she quite often just a hanger-on at civil rights and antiwar photo ops, she seems to have been more directed by her feelings for a certain man than by real commitment to a cause. Her admiration for Martin Luther King, for instance, was what led to her appearance at Selma. I do respect the fact that she admitted to being scared to death, so she understood the danger, but in some of her other adventures she appears to have just blithely gone with the crowd.

It seems like she was always playing a role, usually in the company of her current man. When she tired of that particular lifestyle, she gave away all of her clothing and began a new role with a new man. She was led by her libido rather than intelligent opinions.

I definitely did not agree with her trip to Hanoi during the war. She and Jane Fonda each suffered a severe lack of judgement when they decided to visit Hanoi. The only thing that Joan appears to have learned during that trip is that she didn't like spending time in bomb shelters while our guys were trying to bomb the heck out of the city.

What really turns me off, though, is her ego. The main point of the section of the book on her trip to Poland to meet Lech Waleska is how the people there adored her. I don't think I've ever read a biography or autobiography of a person I had admired and finished the book with a distinct dislike of that person. I still love her singing, always will, but my admiration for her as a person is gone.

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