Here’s the Joan Baez I first came to love – 21 years old, raven-haired, fearless, with a soprano that could raise goose bumps and holy hell simultaneously.
It’s how she looked the first time I saw her perform – on the steps of San Francisco’s main post office in June 1962.
The Federal District Court on the third floor of the building was getting ready to try three crew members of a trimaran that had tried to sail directly into the Pacific waters where the Air Force was dropping different kinds of H-bombs to see how they worked. Radioactive strontium 90 and iodine 131 was blowing all across the four winds and the crew of the Everyman didn’t like it.
The San Francisco Television Archive has newsreel footage of the Everyman event, a collection of sound bites and B-roll, not a finished piece, but interesting. It did take me back to the spirit of those times:: KRON-TV news report from 1962 in Sausalito on the Committee for Non-Violent Action’s construction of the trimaran sailboat ‘Everyman’
The guy standing behind Joan in the picture at top of the post is Ira Sandperl. He clerked at Kepler’s Books in Palo Alto when he wasn’t teaching principles of non-violence for the Committee for Non-Violent Action and to anyone else who would listen – including a Palo Alto high school kid named Joan Baez. Their friendship stuck even after she became an overnight sensation.
Ira was acting as the unofficial spokesperson for the picketers, and I suspect he urged her to come down. In any case, she arrived unannounced, no entourage, no sound system – just unpacked her guitar and started singing.
It’s hard to explain the effect Joan had on us in those days. In 1962, she was in the second year of a skyrocketing career. There had never been a folksinger who came close to her commercial success. Yet she hadn’t sold out. Her principles had stayed as pure as her music. And here she was, proving it again. In a world where the distinction between straight people and underground people was far more clearly defined than today – she was OUR star.
And tonight she was on our steps without a police escort.
So anyway, the next day, after the trial got underway, the protesters decided to stake new ground within the post office itself. Arrests followed. People went limp, as would be seen over and over as the Sixties revealed itself. I still have the clips.
The guy in the checked jacket in the picture is Peter Weiss. I wish I knew where he was today. One long weekend, we hitched to Big Sur together, and slept on the beach below Nepenthe. Next to him is Bob Cummings, a poet and aspiring playwright. Both of them were in the circle I call The First Few Friends I Had
Dennis Crain, if you’re alive, show yourself! I need to hear your stories. 311 Judah Street was a kind of unofficial nerve center for the emerging San Francisco peace movement, and there’s a place inside me that never left. The dusty halls of that drafty flat still haunt my dreams. It’s all in the book.