Joan Baez Again

It’s been almost exactly one year since my first love letter to Joan Baez appeared at the Pondering Pig. Now Hector at The Walrus Speaks has put up another Joan Baez video, this time of Diamonds and Rust, her sweet and heartfelt ode to Mr. Dylan and to lost-love nostalgia in general. And I find I have a few more heartfelt thoughts about that key figure and soul sister of my generation.

But you’re probably getting bored listening to me go on and on about Joan Baez. Why doesn’t he write about somebody with blond hair, like Shakira? Or Christina Aguilera. Now they’ve got blond hair! That Joan Baez, her hair is as gray as the Pondering Pig’s! Grayer even! And I’ve never seen her even try to belly dance.

Actually, it would be interesting to ponder the current music scene and report back to other graysnout pigs such as myself. But I am the least likely of pigs to take on such a task. I don’t even own a television set, so how could I watch the MTV awards?

Show your support! Take up a collection so the Pig can properly ponder Shakira! You’ll be amazed at my unexpected insights.

Actually, I am maybe a little too puritanical to really get into Shakira and her contemps. All that blatant on stage sex kind of embarrasses me. Makes me feel like I shouldn’t be in looking at this private moment.

Joanie took a different route. In her rise to showbiz success she portrayed herself as an enemy of violence, as a friend of farmworkers, as someone who might show up at anti-war demonstrations and peace marches and just sing for free. In fact, not only did she portray herself that way, she actually WAS that way. What a publicity coup!

She was more, well, more Sixties. Just the music. Just the achingly pure voice. Just the one guitar. No bullshit please. There is more to sing about in this life than my hot blood and my breaking heart.

Actually, when I think of Joan Baez, I get a lump in my throat. It’s weird, I know. Maybe you have to be from my time and place. For instance, I will never never forget the day in November 1978 when San Francisco’s Mayor George Moscone and our outspoken gay rights Supervisor Harvey Milk were both shot down in San Francisco’s City Hall by a bitter and hate wracked man whose name will never again be spoken by this pig. Shot down in cold blood just ten days after news had broken about the massacre at Jonestown. Ten days after our own little homegrown cult, the People’s Temple, took the Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Cam, our graphics artist at work, listened to the radio while she worked, so she heard the news first. We all stood around her radio to hear Supervisor Dianne Feinstein speak over the air. “”Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot . . . and killed. The suspect is Supervisor Dan White.”

I stood numb on the 1 California bus all the way home. Staring out at the streets of my gone gray city, smelling the dirty overcoat of the Chinese guy standing next to me, looking blankly at the elderly black lady with her Bible in her hand — just like the woman who used to collect down at Seventeenth and Geary for the Jim Jones People’s Temple. The one who was probably lying dead in a morgue in Guyana right now. No weight has ever lain heavier on my shoulders. My city, my city, my broken city of sorrow and death.

At home that evening, Patrushka and I and our seven year old daughter Hannah watched the little black and white TV in mourning. Patrushka was ready to give birth so we weren’t standing with the candlelit crowds in the Civic Center. We just sat in our darkened living room on Seventeenth Avenue feeling that stunned and dark feeling. What more evil could happen to hope? (John Lennon’s assassination was still a year away.)

KGO-TV’s camera swept across the 25,000 grief strained faces, gay and straight, black, white and Asian, there to hold up their little candles, to listen to forgotten heartfelt, extemporized speeches, to be together, who knew why? Because the rolling sky was on fire.

What I can never forget was the moment Joan Baez came out of the crowd, tuned up, and, standing on the City Hall steps, began to sing “Amazing Grace.” And through that little portable TV speaker on Seventeenth Avenue we heard again her blessed angel voice of hope and healing and truth. I grabbed on and held tight. I guess it wasn’t much in the great scheme of things, but at that moment, it felt like a whole lot. What I heard was – ‘the light’s not out yet, the light’s not all the way out.’

God bless you forever for that, Joanie.

Patrushka gave birth to our daughter Kirstie the next day. She came out screaming. Full of hope. And ready for joy.

Thanks to Uncle Donald’s Castro Street for the vigil photo. His site is worth visiting if you remember or would like to know more.


2 thoughts on “Joan Baez Again

  1. The Jonestown massacre, following so closely after the Moscone-Milk killings, was more than I could stand in my ready-to-deliver condition. I remember sitting on the bed, clutching my big belly and wondering what would happen to this baby about to be born, with the world gone crazy. Those were dark days indeed. Perhaps those events and our sorrow affected Kirstie in my womb and set her on the path she is following today, the one leading to light and life.


  2. Like Kirstie, I had never heard this story about Joan Baez standing on the steps of City Hall in San Francisco in November of 1978, and singing Amazing Grace. I can imagine how her freely giving of herself at this time brought enormous comfort to the distressed mourners. Just reading over your recall of this moving scene brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for your memory.


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