Al Baez, you had diamonds on the soles of your shoes…

Albert Baez

What kind of guy produces two daughters that changed the world like Joanie and Mimi Baez did? Daughter number three, Pauline, managed to stay out of the spotlight but she’s got to be a world-changer too.

Albert Baez made his own impact on the world, although perhaps in a more soft-spoken way. There was something thankfully off-kilter about him. First, in spite of his bow tie and Ivy League looks, he was Mexican. At least his parents were – they moved from Puebla to Brooklyn when he was a kid and Albert grew up there. His own Dad had left the Catholic church to become a Methodist minister. When did you last meet a Mexican Methodist minister?

The whole family spent their lives exploding stereotypes. Al went to Stanford, got his Ph.D there and by 1948 had co-invented a microscope that used X-rays to study living cells. In the early fifties, when his pals were going to work for the nuclear weapons establishment, he took his family to Baghdad to build a physics laboratory at the university there. Then he went to work for UNESCO, teaching science all over the world.

By the time they dropped back down on the Peninsula, where Professor Al took a position at Stanford, Joanie was nearly twelve.

I don’t know if it’s that much fun living in a stereotype exploding family when you are twelve. Here’s a description of 12 year old Joan from the obit in the San Francisco Chronicle:

James Cavener, a onetime student and longtime friend, said
Mr. Baez may have inspired Joan Baez’s musical career with
the purchase of a ukulele.

“I remember when Joanie was about 12 and was a very unhappy
girl,” Cavener said. “She was half Mexican and that was a
stigma and she didn’t feel attractive. In her solitude, in
her reclusiveness, she played the ukulele.”

I’m just about Joan’s age and I went to high school on the Peninsula same as she did, and I can confirm it was no place to be a dark skinned beauty from a high caste family. It’s not that prejudice was rampant. Our 1958 student body president was a black guy named Bill Pettis and we were was damned proud of him – or maybe proud of how liberal we were. But he was another anomaly – like Joan. I don’t remember Bill hanging out at any of the rich kids’ parties, although maybe he did.

In 1958, Professor Al took a job at MIT and hauled the family to Boston. He was a music lover, and one night he took his 17 year old daughter down to a Cambridge coffee house called Club 47 to see the new fad – young college folksingers tellin’ about Woody Guthrie, tellin’ about the Carter Family, singing about those young maidens who got murdered by their lovers (who were always named Willie) and only the pretty birdies were left to mourn.

Joan baez club 47Within a year, Joanie was up there too.

As longtime readers of this blog know, I care a lot about Joanie Baez, and I want to know more about the family that produced her. It’s not just her music, her glorious voice which lifted me from the dark sorrow of my youth over and over and over. Not just her spirit, but her courage. She stood on the lines and got busted just like the other demonstrators. More than once I saw Joan appear out of the night with her acoustic guitar and sing to encourage protesters on the line like me. She wasn’t just an entertainer, know what I mean? She stood for something.

I want to stand for something too.

Maybe she’s a skunk in person, how should I know? But I will give her honor as long as I write this blog. My Saint Joan. No irony intended.

I think Professor Al taught his children well. To quote from his LA Times obit:

Joan Baez admired her father — a Quaker and pacifist — for valuing teaching and turning away from potentially lucrative defense work.”We would never have all the fine and useless things little girls want …. Instead we would have a father with a clear conscience,” she recalled in her memoir. “Decency would be his legacy to us.”

What a great family. What a great Dad. May God bless you, Dr. Baez, and welcome you into his Kingdom with rejoicing.

For more about the Baez Family:
R.I.P. Albert, a personal reminiscence from a science blogger who spent time with him in the nineties.
Noted scientist was father of Joan Baez and Mimi Farina. Obit from Dr. Baez’s hometown paper, the Marin Independent Journal.
And, of course, Joanie’s own website.
Not to mention the Pondering Pig’s various little essays on the dear girl. Available by clicking the appropriate tags.


My Heart Belongs To Joanie


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.

Everyman trimaranI didn’t like it either and neither did the hundred or so other demonstrators who were picketing up and down Seventh Street.

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.

1962 06 9 SF Ex Girl Picket's Gentle Roust

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

1962 06 09 SF Ex Photo-Picket

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.

Sixty-Six And All That

So what’s so bad about turning sixty-six? All the cool and famous people do it. For instance, how about…Peter Tork?  He turned sixty-six this week, just like me. And don’t you dare say, “Who’s Peter Tork?”(Deafening Silence)

Brother! OK, children, if you really don’t know, Peter Tork was a beautiful, Grammy award winning singer from Iceland. Oh wait, that’s Bjork.

Sorry. Now I’ve got it. Peter Tork was an funny guy from another planet who lived in Mindy’s attic…hmm, that doesn’t seem right either.

Let me think, He must be famous for something. Now I remember! He is from another planet but he has long pointy ears and used to have a job on the Starship Enterprise.

Oh, I don’t know! I can’t remember either. I’m only monkeeing around. I guess it just shows – fame is fleeting. Take for instance, Brian Jones. (Don’t you DARE ask ‘Who?’) He’d be sixty-six this month
if he hadn’t drowned in his swimming pool in 1969 after being eighty-sixed from the Rolling Stones. Poor bastard. But you probably already know his sad story. If you don’t, apply to Marianne Faithfull
(and don’t give me that ‘who?’ stuff again.) I only tell stories about the interesting unknowns and barely knowns of my San Francisco youth.

Anyway, what’s the point of all this scrambling for fame so our names will live forever?

Like Brian Jones, for all his fame now laying in a country churchyard off the A435 forgotten by flowers and children.

Like Yvette Mimiuex (age sixty-six), beautiful freak from the future famous for her wonderful name, now immersed in money somewhere in the LA basin. Does she collect her lobby cards? And dream she’ll still be
famous again when the time machine lands?

Like…like…CAROL CLEVELAND! She’s sixty-six, and look at her! (Oh look her up. If you know who Monty Python was, you should know who Carol Cleveland is. She was famous.)

Like Pete Best, ousted by Ringo so long ago, still organizing his next nostalgia band tour. If that promoter in Winnipeg ever calls, I’ll be down pub.

Like Tom Fogerty, he waited a long time for that steamboat round the bend, but it never came. Now he’s in the ground. About him, people like to say, “Wasn’t he John Fogarty’s brother?” Other people say, “What was
Credence Clearwater Revival?”

Or like Ellen Naomi Cohen, really Cass Elliot, but really Ellen Naomi Cohen, big voiced, big bodied, still alone in a little grave in the LA hills. Just a few months older than the Pondering Pig. If she were here.

Like Fingerless Joe Novakovich, missing on San Francisco streets these long years, and following a trail of tokay glistened glass somewhere towards home…

Like Saint Jack Kerouac who vomited his guts into the toilet, cried out, “La j me rapele! La j me rapele!” (Now I remember! Now I remember!), breathed deep one farewell breath for remembrance of this rainwet earth before the black shroud finally smiled upon him.

Like the Lovely Linda, one half of rock’s greatest love affair, the kind that comes with children who grow up without artillery holes in their hearts and grandchildren and a marriage that didn’t let massive
fame snatch love forever and homemade loaves. No early death from cancer can take that laurel from her brow. God bless that girl, also sixty-six.

Or like Country Joe McDonald (age sixty-six), who don’t care (I think) that he’s not headlining Woodstock any more but getting on with his life honoring Woody and Vietnam vets and still singing “It’s one two three what are we fightin’ for don’t ask me i don’t give a damn next stop is Vietnam” in the shower or in the daffodils come spring.

Like our own Saint Joan, who will matter forever, already far past her sixty-sixth, yet still on the road night after night through phantom music halls of Yugoslavia and South Carolina.

Like, I don’t know, like me.

Like you, dear reader. Well, maybe not YOU. You’ve got too much sense.

Whaddayasay we forget the whole thing, walk over to Golden Gate Park and join The Syndicate of Eternal Friendship in a little game of Frisbee? As Jinx the Cat says, “Where are the snows of yesteryear?
They’re playing Frisbee in the park.”

Once I heard him add, “See that dog over there? Watch out for that dog”

Photo Credits: Cryptomundo, Linda McCartney, FSM Gallery 1964-65

Some Simple After-Christmas Wishes

Here are my after-Christmas wishes for you, dear reader…

May your life be blessed as mine has been…
In fact, may all your children live to become adults.
May you love them as adults.
And may you care for your grandchildren because…they’re still alive.

None of them drank dirty dysentery water and died…
None of your four year olds caught measles and died, like they still do in Africa…

May you all love your children as much as that woman in Somalia does whose baby died of malaria because all the cheap new wonder drugs were somewhere else…

When your kids get sick, may there be a good doctor and good medicine somewhere nearby…

May your children never be brain damaged because you never heard of iodized salt. And you couldn’t buy any anyway because there was no iodized salt in a hundred miles…

And may all your children learn to read and write and do arithmetic. If they decide to go to college, may you have a decent university in your land and may you be able to pay the fees…

May your children never be raped and beaten by a brutal stepfather or left to go hungry by an uncaring stepmother because you were blown up by a mine when you walked across the meadow…

May none of your daughters have to choose prostitution so they can feed their children…

And here’s my Christmas wish for all of us…

May each one of us in the rich countries, the overweight countries, the properly insured countries…
may we wake up, stand up, reach out, stand out, lend
a stupid hand, a clumsy hand, a trying to hand, a soft hand, any kind of hand,
whatever I can do, whatever you can dream up, a boring idea will work,
but a helping hand… a little band for the wretched ones
who never heard of KIVA,
whose homes were blown up by the Islamacists, the supremacists, the pragmatists, the takers, the fakers, the deliverers with guns in their quivers and hate in their livers,
the grabbers, the stabbers, the strong who grow stronger because they took it all and the weak ones got none…

I’m sitting her in my comfortable warm bungalow with Joanie Baez whispering, “Show me the famine, show me the frail eyes with
no future that show how we failed,
And I’ll show you the children with so many reasons why,
There but for fortune, go you or I”….
and now Carly Simon comes on singing,
“I’ve got to learn from the greats,
Earn my right to be living,
With every breath that I take,
Every heartbeat, And I — I want to get there
I — I want to be one, one who is touched by the sun,
One who is touched by the sun…

and I…just an ordinary…barnyard variety pig…feel like…I..might…want to be touched by the sun too!

God, I pray that for all of us this day.

Photo by Y.K. Lee. Nduli, Western Cape, South Africa, 2002


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.

Sweet Sir Galahad

I’ve been visiting The Walrus Speaks lately, a prolific and entertaining blog dedicated to the Beatles mainly but with lots of side glances into other Sixties/Seventies rock. The other day I mentioned I thought the most beautiful and touching song to come out of the Sixties was Joan Baez’s Sweet Sir Galahad, written about her sister Mimi’s ascent from grief to life after her husband Richard was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1966.

I just was visiting there tonight and discovered Hector has put up a clip of Joanie herself singing Sweet Sir Galahad at Woodstock. Having grown up with that voice at my ear through every important event of my young life – well, tears welled up in these old eyes to see her young again and her voice in its prime, and that song once more…

Give your self a treat. Head over to Dedicated to the Pondering Pig—Sweet Sir Galahad


A Letter To Joan Baez


Hey Joan, DCF 1.0
I was up in Cambridge, Massachusetts the other day and I thought you might like to see what the coffee house where you got your start looks like today. Somebody else owns it now and they had a power outage so the guys from the electric company were going in and out and the bar was closed for the day. My Patrushka went up to them in her bold manner and asked, "Hey, is this the place where Joan Baez got her start?" The power company guys didn’t blink: yeah, of course. Everybody knows that. The whole world on Mount Auburn Street knows that. And, they went on, at this very moment back in 1959 she is in there sitting on a high stool with the spotlight shining on her gleaming raven hair and her pure voice soaring into the farthest galaxy.

I figure I owe you something for all those hours you thrilled my soul with that voice that could soar out of the range of the human ear. That voice that vibrates with all the sorrow and joy of life without ever losing its pure tone. Wow! Our Joanie!

Did I ever tell you your version of Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 is one of the musical high points of my century? I can’t listen to it often because my whole life comes to a thudding halt while I stand petrified in wonder. Its been like that since 1965 when I first heard you sing it in, I think, Steve Poe’s room on Baker Street in San Francisco. In my canon of joy, it’s up there with Renata Tebaldi’s duet with Carlo Bergonzi singing Si, Mi chiamano, Mimi in their 1950s recording of La Boheme. The pure essence of beauty, where joy approaches the sorrow of life and they shake hands and call off their enmity for the length of the song.

I just thank God for giving you such a pure and beautiful voice for our joy. What a benevolent God we have. I hope you enjoy your picture.