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Home Culture Joan Baez reveals what no one knew about her life: “It was devastating to tell it, but now I am at peace” | Culture

Joan Baez reveals what no one knew about her life: “It was devastating to tell it, but now I am at peace” | Culture

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Joan Baez claims that she suffered abuse from her father when she was a child. Joan Baez was called an “idiotic Mexican” at school. Joan Baez started going to therapy when she was 16 years old. Joan Baez was hooked on anxiolytics for eight years. Joan Baez left her relationship with Bob Dylan horrified. Joan Baez had a relationship with her sister Mimi, also a singer, based on her power and jealousy. Joan Baez had a female partner for two years. Joan Baez suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder, neuroses and panic attacks for decades.

Joan Baez (New York, 83 years old) smiles from her home in Los Angeles in a video chat with this newspaper when asked why she has decided to open her mouth and tell the world all this that only her intimates (if anything) knew. . “Know? I am over 80 years old and I wanted to leave something sincere. I gave the keys to my privacy to Karen (O’Connor, filmmaker) and there was no turning back. If she desperately wanted to change something she had already made the decision and could not go back.” The singer talks about the documentary Joan Baez I Am Noise, a pulsating journey through her life where the activist bleeds out traveling to the recesses of her soul. The film, almost two hours long, premieres at the BCN Film Fest on April 23 and in theaters from the 26th of the same month.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in London, April 1965. Mirrorpix (Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Baez speaks sitting in the living room of her home, where there are paintings and a fireplace. She wears glasses, has short white hair and exhibits a peaceful countenance with moments in which she bursts out laughing and others in which she begins to sing in Spanish, although she does not speak it. You can tell that she has lifted a weight off her shoulders by telling her most hidden story. “When the documentary was finished I watched it about 10 times and I didn’t feel anything. Then I realized that I saw him protecting me, because there is too much sadness and confession. So one day, I relaxed, cooked some popcorn, and sat down to watch it. “It was devastating, but now I am at peace.”

Aside from the crude confessions, the documentary traces an overview of the gigantic cultural figure of Baez, with a career that spans six decades and which made her the grand dame of social folk and a relevant figure of the counterculture of the sixties. She was the first to give Bob Dylan a chance. Without her sense of smell to detect the talent of the creator of Blowin’ In The Wind, It is very possible that Dylan would have taken longer to explode. “He was at Gerde’s Folk City, in New York. Suddenly, a ragged boy appeared on stage and began to blurt out his lyrics. He left me petrified. His talent intoxicated me like a drug. I took him to concerts, I invited him up and people booed him. I told them: ‘Please listen to him.’ It didn’t take long for them to change their minds,” he says. They formed a captivatingly attractive duo. “He needed a mother, someone to bathe him and sing songs to him. And I needed to take care of someone,” he says. They had a relationship that ended when Dylan, already on the rise to success, arrived in London in 1965 and she accompanied him. “I think what happened to Bobby when he became famous was that he turned the page and distanced himself from everyone. It was a very abrupt change,” he says in the documentary. And she adds: “So many drugs and so much virility did not suit me. They were in another dimension, I was the folk weirdo who accompanied them. It didn’t look like anything there. It was horrible”.

Baez became famous overnight. In 1959, aged 18, she performed at the Netwport Folk Festival and everything changed. “For whatever reason, she had the right voice at the right time. And that catapulted me into the stratosphere,” she notes. Long before, her father, Albert Baez (a prominent Mexican physicist, co-inventor of the X-ray microscope), had instilled in Joan and her two sisters a social conscience. “My father took us to many places so that we could see that we were all equal. He made us reflect on the gap between rich and poor.” Her mother, Irish, was a recalcitrant pacifist. That was the germ of the committed Baez. The five were a family of Quakers.

The writer James Baldwin, Joan Baez and the activist James Forman in the march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) in 1965, which called for the Voting Act for blacks.
The writer James Baldwin, Joan Baez and the activist James Forman in the march from Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) in 1965, which called for the Voting Act for blacks.

Already very popular, Baez was in all of them. The documentary shows images of her in demonstrations alongside Martin Luther King, in protests against the Vietnam War, leading black children by the hand to school while members of the Ku Klux Klan intimidated them hidden in their hoods… There are exciting moments, such as when black mothers, segregated and poor, hug a young Baez for wasting so much courage in her defense. Meanwhile, the singer was dealing with her psychological problems. When a teenager Joan went to the first psychologist, he warned her parents: “Your daughter carries numerous emotional problems, a feeling of inadequacy, an inferiority complex. The symptoms could be due to a psychological and emotional disorder.”

“We were all too crazy to talk about mental health,” the artist reflects today. “It was the 60s, with a crazy combination of things: Vietnam, mandatory military service, the fight for civil rights… The good thing is that if you were a musician you were busy all day. “You didn’t have time for other things.” Talk during I am noise of its “eternal condemnation”: paying to enjoy. “I knew that after having a good time, I was going to break down. And so on in an infinite loop.” Although greatly attenuated, he affirms that it still persists.

Baez’s welcoming and powerful voice formed the soundtrack of the marches and demonstrations in the sixties of the fight for civil rights with traditional songs such as We Shall Overcome, Oh, Freedom o All My Trials. Also with versions of Dylan songs, such as A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna FallWhen the Ship Comes In o Blowin’ In The Wind. He recognizes that activism became an addiction. He felt bad when he had no cause to defend. And then the Vietnam War ended. And now that. Freed from that weight, in 1975 she published a non-political album, which is valued as her best work, Diamonds and Rust. The title track offers a poetic, sometimes cruel, sometimes romantic dissection of her relationship with Dylan.

Baez confesses today that she has made peace with Dylan “spiritually,” since they have not had contact for “decades.” “I’m not bothered. I had the best of him. She gave us a lot with his songs. When I felt that the bad had melted away, I wrote him a letter. I said, ‘Thank you for the sixties, what songs you wrote. Thank you for our relationship. The only thing I feel now is gratitude,” she says. She is still waiting for a response. She is four months older than him.

When the artist says that to make the documentary she gave the keys to her privacy, it can be interpreted literally. In a room in her house, Baez keeps hundreds of memories of her, including cassettes with voice recordings of the entire family’s therapy sessions. At 50 years old, the singer underwent a hypnosis session to rescue her memories. She did it partly pushed by her sister Mimi, who revealed to her that she had suffered abuse from her father. In 1991, Baez wrote a brutal letter to her parents, which she reveals in the documentary: “Dear mom and dad. The time has come to tell you the truth, which I have refused to tell you until now… He then accuses her parent of having abused her. Albert, her father, defended himself: “There are many cases of psychiatrists who help remind their patients of things that did not happen. It’s called false lie syndrome. And Ella Baez responds in the documentary: “You are never completely sure, but that is the recovery process. You can’t know what exactly happened. But I have half a brain and I know that certain things really happened, others only half, and others are conjectures. But even if 20% was real, it was enough to cause the havoc it did. “I just don’t have proof.”

Joan Baez and Jimi Hendrix chat backstage at a concert in New York in 1968 that was held to raise money to help refugees from the Biafran-Nigerian civil war.
Joan Baez and Jimi Hendrix chat backstage at a concert in New York in 1968 that was held to raise money to help refugees from the Biafran-Nigerian civil war. Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

Today the artist has a face that projects kindness that has forgiven her father. “It was difficult and it took me time, but yes, I forgave him. I remember taking him for walks in a wheelchair when he was already over 90 years old (he died in 2007 at the age of 94). I don’t like musicals, but he does a lot, so I remembered one, stood up in my chair and sang it to him. I said, ‘This is the best I can do right now.’ I have a framed letter from him that he wrote to me at that time, when he was very old. He says, ‘It lifts my spirits when I see you.’ He didn’t say those nice things when he was young, but when he was older he said them.” Of the family photo of five members (the parents and three daughters), only she remains.

He responds with humor to how he managed to get rid of his eight-year addiction to anxiolytics: “Well, actually the person responsible for me quitting was President Carter. He banned those wonderful pills and I couldn’t get them anywhere anymore, so I gave them up.”

Joan Baez retired from touring in 2019. Since then she has only been on stage to play one or two songs at benefit concerts.  This photo belongs to the last one, last February 26 at Carnegie Hall in New York, for Tibet.
Joan Baez retired from touring in 2019. Since then she has only been on stage to play one or two songs at benefit concerts. This photo belongs to the last one, last February 26 at Carnegie Hall in New York, for Tibet. Noam Galai (Getty Images for Tibet House US)

She, who fought so hard for injustice, today regretfully witnesses the dangerous global drift: “I think no one could have written a better script about the rise of the new fascism. We could never imagine that that idiot Trump, supported by followers who must be even stupider than him, would come to power. I call it an evil avalanche and I try to avoid it by finding my place. One of the main things for me is to be at peace where I live. I am referring to the issue of global warming. I look out the window and see and hear the birds. Oh, two-thirds of the birds are gone. If I let that break my heart, I become immobile and can’t go on. So I go out into the field, sit down and try to listen to the only bird. I’m not waiting for the whole choir. It is only one, but very beautiful.”

Baez retired from major tours in 2019, precisely in Spain, Madrid, in a delightful concert at the Teatro Real where she was accompanied on percussion by her only son, Gabriel Harris (54 years old), the result of her marriage to activist David Harris. , died in 2023. “I don’t miss touring. I’ve done a lot and it’s exhausting. Since then I’ve only ever been on stage to play one or two songs. Enough”. She gets up early, makes her bed, does gymnastics (she looks very fit), meditates, eats fresh eggs for breakfast from her own chickens, and gets to work on a book of poetry that she will publish soon. And she dances. She loves to walk alone in the countryside, with her dog. She puts on the Gipsy Kings headphones and dances. Until she appears the only songbird.

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