Bob Dylan and Joan Baez had an on-going professional and personal relationship through the years that both influenced the song-writing and relationships. They served as artist and muse to one another. The excerpts in grey are conversations with Joan Baez from the amazing Dylan biography by Anthony Scaduto-- a biography reading recommendation, for sure. While Joan has spoken openly and frequently about Dylan throughout the years, Dylan himself has rarely acknowledged any relationships he has had, and hasn't spoken about Joan except to comment on her amazing voice and his remorse over not returning the favor to invite her on stage during his European tour as she had expected, and confirming that she was an important figure in his life. Despite his vague-ness on his relationships, you can still see hints of Baez's influence in some of his 60s era lyrics as he intertwines the identities of the prominent women in his life in a sequence of haunting and often bitter songs, especially featured on the album Blonde on Blonde.
Baez and Dylan had a long a complicated history to be sure. An A-list folk scene performer by the early days of the folk movement, Baez had little interest in hearing the new comers that were always begging for her endorsement. Ignoring the early Dylan buzz for some time, when she finally came around to listening to one of his early LPs full of message and glory and poetry she was floored. He was the urchin-man-child, the reincarnated dust bowl era train-hopping singer, the second coming of Guthrie, the folk prophet, the new direction. She immediately saw that his music deserved attention and took him under her wing to give him the platform he needed for his music (she was performing to large, sold-out crowds by this time). The girl-on-the-half-shell, Joan had been pegged the au natural, holier-than-thou, Madonna of the burgeoning youth folk scene. She did little dispute this image. While in reality Joan was an earthy, politically attuned girl with a sharp, biting humor and tendency toward goofy mischief, her image was pristine, angelic, and quite dated. She largely covered antiquated folk tunes from as far back as the medieval times (she didn't write her own music until later on in her career) that were quite removed from the social political scene of the times she was actually living in.
The relationship started as a mutually beneficial one: Baez, needing the edge and nowness that her grave-voiced new project, Bob Dylan, could provide, and Dylan needing Baez's audience, exposure and endorsement. Dylan always seemed to endear women to him, in a maternal sort of way-- and he seems to have always needed the constant presence and support from women who he expects to be completely absorbed and devoted to him despite his own first priority to his music and habit of juggling other devoted women on the side. Dylan in the early days played-up the 'lost little urchin' image and endeared women to him to care for his needs: dress him up, feed him, and get him on stage on-time. Baez and Dylan would perform magical duets which calmed her (at times) shrill soppy vocals, and smoothed Dylan's wretched growls and whines. The fans initially booed the strange urchin on stage with their folk Madonna-Angel, but Joan was forceful with the crowd to listen up to Dylan's set, and the instant gossip after viewing the duet was 'Baez, the folk queen and Dylan, her king'. Everyone was sure that the musical chemistry between them hinted at something more personal behind the scenes. Of course, they were right.
Baez says of her early meetings with Dylan:
"He knocked me out completely. As I remember him, it seems he was about five feet tall, he seemed tiny, just tiny, with that goofy little hat on..... I was knocked out, totally absorbed. I thought, "God". His style, and his eyes and the whole mystical, whatever it was, and I just thought about him for days.... I'm really hooked on geniuses and any time it happens along I really get excited..... I wanted people to hear him. I wanted to take care of him and have him sing. I mean, brush his hair and brush his teeth and get him on stage.... Yeah, it was very maternal"
At this time, Dylan was feeling his career expanding quickly, and though he was still seeing his devoted girlfriend Suze Rotolo, he was more interested in catapulting his career with the help of Baez or whoever else could help him realize his dreams. The growing side relationship with Baez was an obvious bi-product of their professional relationship, and he hid it from Suze as well as he could. Baez invited Dylan to spend time with him at her wooden folk palace in the dreamy California hills of Carmel, where he spent his time writing, relaxing, feeding off the creative energies of Joan, her sister, and brother-in-law writer Richard Fariña; and though Joan was clearly the superstar of the group, she spent her days as 'the woman behind the man' caring for Dylan's needs, shaping her schedule around his, and spoon-feeding him when he was glued to the typewriter. The foursome spent many dreamy afternoons gracing the rolling hills and jagged cliffs of the California coast, making art, and traveling. Suze was languishing in New York, reluctantly receiving occasional secret calls and letters from Dylan (who made no mention of Baez), while she was trying to rid herself of his ghost to little avail.
Baez said of the time he spent at her home in Carmel, California:
"Well he was writing his book then. God, I still have a great hunk of it. If he wants it back he can have it. He wrote like a ticker tape machine. He'd just stand there with his knees going tung, tung, tung, back and forth. He was standing, and he'd smoke all day and drink wine. The only way I could get him to eat was to go over and eat right next to him, just peer over his shoulder and chew, and right away he'd start picking at whatever I had in my hand. So I made picking food. Otherwise I'd say, "You want something to eat?" and he'd say, "No, no" One time he was visiting, he wrote "Hattie Carroll", and one time he wrote "Four Letter Word", and a couple of other things. But mostly the second time he was there, he was writing his book Tarantula."
Later, she adds:
"How could you imagine Bobby not ever having written that stuff? He wouldn't have been Bobby if he didn't write that, and if he weren't a genius I... It was everything, you know. It was the whole combination that made up Bobby, that made him irresistible. His humor, his warehouse eyes... One time it was his super grubby days, we were driving somewhere and I looked through his glasses when he turned his head or something. I said, "Jesus, Bobby, " and took his glasses off and cleaned them, and he said "Oh, hey, wow, hey I can see." And I said, "How'd you like to be able to hear?" He was pretty low, and it made him laugh. He was really a grubby cat. He threw up out the window that night. He got drunk on wine, and in a tunnel somewhere he threw up, just had time to holler to whoever was in the back seat to shut their windows. But some of it was just really beautiful. I remember days, I guess we were with Victor and Dick and Mimi and Bobby. We'd stop on the highway and get out and dance and horse around--be crazy. Then Bobby and I would just fall asleep in the back of the station wagon. That was just really, really nice. Because I mean if you're with somebody for a long period of tie, they're bound to have to calm down. Once he bought me a beautiful coat, a blue green corduroy thing. I wore it with a silk scarf. And I bought him a black jacket and some weird lavender cuff links, and a white shirt. I remember it was winter then, and we were staying at the Earle in the Village. We were leaning out the window one morning and watching the kids I felt as if I'd been with Bobby for a hundred years and all those kids wandering around out there were our own children, you know? This couple looked up and I know they recognized us. They were beautiful."
Joan would evaluate Bob's poetry and tried to write her own, although she was laughed off by Dylan for her awkward and faux-poetic lyrics. Joan did, however, seep into his subconscious (as he later placed veiled references to her in his lyrics) and she was certainly influenced by him-- almost as a form of quality control for her to seek better material and later, write her own lyrics.
At a certain point though, around the mid-60s, the exposure paid-off in spades and Baez found herself in Dylan's shadow rather than by his side. Whereas she was his ticket into the limelight in the beginning, by 1965, she had become more of an anchor to the increasingly outdated folk mediocracy that Dylan had already surpassed; and he was quickly becoming the most cutting-edge poet-prophet of his day. The turning point, so the story goes, was when Dylan started his 1965 tour, documented in the legendary rock-doc "Don't Look Back", he started shunning Joan until she got the picture and cancelled her tour. As Dylan gained buzz abroad Joan had assumed Dylan would reciprocate the exposure she offered him by asking her to take her place on the stage during his concerts. She had her guitar positioned by her side, ready to take the stage, but show after show, Dylan closed the concert and the invite to play was never extended. Joan was merely an unwanted part of the hotel furniture, a body in the entourage of Dylan hangers-on, and as soon as she got the picture, she got a tiny glimpse of humanity and acknowledgement from Dylan, kissed him on the forehead, and left the hotel room never to hear from him again until well into the 70s. She did see him once or twice but he didn't really acknowledge her again until his Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
"I knew that perfectly well, which is why I cancelled my tour.... When the plane landed in England, I think Bobby was torn because he was scared and he wanted me by his side. I couldn't tell that then, and I stayed back because I felt very much that i didn't want to impose on his scene. It was Bobby's tour, and I stayed about ten feet in back of him, literally not noticed by anybody..... But a couple of times, as I think back, he gave a look. It was like 'help' and I couldn't decide whether it was more important to go and help him.... Maybe it was stupid modesty, maybe I should have, 'cause maybe he needed me then. But I didn't jump in. And that happened a couple of times. Then after that he never asked again..... Oh, I went into the room and stuff, but it was that stupid revolting scene. Bobby would get the record player and put on his record, sit with his back to everybody and type, and everybody'd sit around and eat. It was really revolting. The most human he got was that night in the film where he'd been typing and we sang some stuff, or I sang a song he'd written and forgotten, and then I kissed him on the head and left."
"....I saw him once years later, in a concert in San Jose. I went to see him..... but he was not being real.... and that was when he was married and he didn't tell me he was married [Dylan secretly married Sara Lownds in 1966 and kept the relationship secret from friends, family, and girlfriends.... even after the news went public he denied that they were married.] Yeah, that was very confusing. And I think he didn't want to be around me, or I was too much to bother with, or he was not genuinely interested at that point. I feel now as though I really imposed myself. I should have gone home, but people don't. I mean, when you're around somebody like Bobby, you do impose. I mean, you stay around until everybody is kicked out.... Oh yeah, the charisma. It was obvious he was on the edge of something."
Excerpt from Don't Look Back (1965) where Baez sings for Dylan, he joins in. Later, she comments how lovely the night was and leaves him with a farewell kiss on the head and doesn't speak to him again for another 10 years. The following scenes are moments with Dylan Baez that actually occurred before this kiss but were edited to appear that they happen have she leaves his hotel room.
It seems that few people-- especially women-- took Dylan to task as Baez would at times. She was like an all-embracing maternal, sensual, serving, disciplinary, partner that came with expectations and baggage and tied to a particular crowd-- and though she was an absorbing, vibrant presence and what he needed in some ways-- she was too much energy, too serious of a partner, and placed too many restrictions on Dylan. She expected him to continue to turn out politically charged ballads, put the cause above his art, and she scolded him when he wasn't treating people right. Sara, Dylan's long-time wife, by all accounts, was quite different and completely uninterested in his career or public image. She was a mystical beauty that was happy to serve and support Dylan and her children, and wanted no part of the public eye. Unlike Joan, Sara never made requests of Dylan and did what he asked of her without question. One story tells of him wanting to keep their marriage secret so, when a reporter knocks on his door, he tells Sara to get into the closet and don't come out. She looked at him quizzically but did his bidding without questioning why or leaving the closet until he goes to get her out. As Dylan seemed to in all his relationships, he depended on Sara and treated her like his personal mystic-guide, consulting her on which days are more favorable to travel upon and seeking astrological readings from her.
"You see, I think Bobby comes closer to being psychotic than neurotic. I just say that because of the couple times that he got drunk and turned against friends, just turned on them, and I couldn't believe it. I would never buy it. It wasn't real. I would stand their and fight him. I guess the most I did take was in England, and I'm amazed when I look back that I took that much. But I loved him and couldn't believe that he was, you know, just being so hurtful. And even when he was sick, at the end of that tour, God I was just in agony. I didn't know how sick he was, and I wasn't allowed in his room. Thats' when he called Sara in..... He would see my mother, he would see everybody, but he wouldn't see me."
"I went out and bought him a shirt, something I mean I wanted to tell him that I loved him, that I cared for him, that it didn't mater what was going on and everything, and I was glad Sara was there because she seemed to care for him, you know, somebody to take care of him. And I bought him a shirt and went to the door and, I'd never met her but I guess that's who came to the door. And she took it and I never heard anything after that. That was the closest I got to seeing him, And then I left England."
"He was honest with me, but it would take me sometimes four hours to get something out of him that I knew was the truth. And then he'd say, "Hey, don't you never tell nobody, man. You're the only fuckin' chick who's ever made me do that." I mean, 'cause nobody had the patience.... [Once,] I said "Bobby why did you talk that way, why are you rude to me?" He said, "Hey the only reason I said what I said to you is that you looked hurt." I thought, "Did I look hurt? I did not look hurt. I was mad." He said, "Hey, you were hurt," and I said "Bobby, I wasn't hurt and you know it," and he said, "Hey, hey I know it, hey, but don't ever tell nobody." He said, "Hey, you're the only chick who pins me down on that kind of shit. Hey I don't want to hear about it, I don't want to think about it." And then he was in a good mood again, and we laughed. But I can't believe it. He does that to people all the time, and they really think, "Oh I must have looked hurt".
But even after Dylan's cold shoulder, he continued to think about Joan secretly, as one of the influential muses in his life along with Suze and Sara.
"He was so busy being dada, everything's crazy, sort of comical, cynical, or however you want to put it. And he was avoiding being real with anybody by doing that. I mean he had weird stuff going on. He'd just written Visions of Johanna sounded very suspicious to me, as though it had images of me in it. I mean, I can't ever say that publicly. But he'd been talking to Ginsberg about it. First of all he had never performed it before, and Neuwirth told him I was there that night and he performed it. And that was very odd. I was listening to the song and sort of inwardly wanting to feel flattered, but wondering whether--you know, I mean, everybody in the world thinks Bobby's written songs about them, and I consider myself in the same bag. But I would never claim a song. But certain images in there did sound very strange. Then Ginsberg came up at one point and said, "What do you think Visions of Johanna is about?" And I said, "I don't know, your guess is as good as mine." He said "No, no, what do you think its about? Bobby says..." And then he reeled off this pile of crap that had nothing to do with anything. And I said, "Did Bobby say that or did you make that up?" I had the feeling the two of them were in sort of cahoots to make sure I never thought the song had anything to do with me."
Listening to the Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde you can see a sequence of relationship-based songs that skillfully intertwine the characteristics of Sara Lownds, Suze Rotolo, Edie Sedgwick, and Joan Baez-- and possibly other women as well-- so that few songs are about any one in its entirety, but elements of the other three have influenced particular lines or references in the lyrics. It makes it difficult for experts to say definitively who or what was the inspiration for a particular song but undeniably strong references point to "Like a Rolling Stone" being about Edie Sedgwick, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Low-lands" being about Sara Lownds, "Visions of Johanna" inspired by Joan, and a host of his 1964 songs were inspired by Suze Rotolo. Other songs in this bitter relationship era of Dylan's songwriting career contain veiled refereces to two or more of them all within the same song. Dylan often mixed and merged their identities at will.
"He just did seem like a huge ego bubble, I mean, frantic, and lost and so wrapped up in ego that he couldn't have seen more than four feet in front of him.... Well he can't anyway without his glasses..... Up to now, I still wonder what Bobby thinks about me. You're bound to do that with somebody you loved once and who it seems, turned on you."
Above clip is "Visions of Johanna" by Bob Dylan, 1966.
Dylan and Baez in 1965 shortly before their split.
A still from film taken in 1964-5, from "No Direction Home"
Above clip is Joan Baez performing "Diamonds and Rust" live.
In 1975, Baez wrote "Diamonds and Rust", by far the best of Baez's own compositions, which recalls bittersweet memories with Dylan. In the lyrics she recounts an out-of-the-blue phone call from an old lover, which sends her a decade back in time, to a crummy hotel in Greenwich Village; she recalls giving him a pair of cuff-links, and summarizes that memories bring "diamonds and rust"-- bittersweet nostalgia. Baez was publicly open about the muse of the song, and the buzz boosted her career back into the limelight. Although the lyrics are her most poetic and obscure, very much under the influence of Dylan's own style, it was easy for fans to compare the lyrics to real history between the aging folk royalty Baez and Dylan. The album was gold, a Top-40 hit.
Its amazing how many little memories she packed into the song. The cufflinks she mentioned are probably the ones she gave him in the mid 60s which he was wearing on the Bringing it All Back Home album cover in 1965. Dylan inspired Baez to write at least one other song before "Diamonds and Rust", which barely had a pop culture impact, and in retrospect in is an embarrassing, poorly written plea for Dylan to return to his political folk roots called "To Bobby" in 1972.
I'll be damned
Here comes your ghost again
But that's not unusual
It's just that the moon is full
And you happened to call
And here I sit
Hand on the telephone
Hearing a voice I'd known
A couple of light years ago
Heading straight for a fall
As I remember your eyes
Were bluer than robin's eggs
My poetry was lousy you said
Where are you calling from?
A booth in the midwest
Ten years ago
I bought you some cufflinks
You brought me something
We both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust
Well you burst on the scene
Already a legend
The unwashed phenomenon
The original vagabond
You strayed into my arms
And there you stayed
Temporarily lost at sea
The Madonna was yours for free
Yes the girl on the half-shell
Would keep you unharmed
Now I see you standing
With brown leaves falling around
And snow in your hair
Now you're smiling out the window
Of that crummy hotel
Over Washington Square
Our breath comes out white clouds
Mingles and hangs in the air
Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there
Now you're telling me
You're not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Because I need some of that vagueness now
It's all come back too clearly
Yes I loved you dearly
And if you're offering me diamonds and rust
I've already paid
© 1975 Chandos Music (ASCAP)
The song alludes to Baez's relationship with Bob Dylan ten years before. In her memoir, And a Voice to Sing With (1987), she recounted how she told Dylan that the song was about her ex-husband David Harris, thereby countering the rumors that the song was about Dylan and Baez. Although Dylan is not specifically named in the song, Baez uses phrases from the song in describing her relationship with Dylan in the third chapter of the memoir, and has been explicit that he was the inspiration for the song.
In And a Voice to Sing With, Baez remembers a conversation between her and Dylan:
"You gonna sing that song about robin's eggs and diamonds?" Bob had asked me on the first day of rehearsals.
"You know, that one about blue eyes and diamonds..."
"Oh", I said, "you must mean 'Diamonds And Rust', the song I wrote for my husband, David. I wrote it while he was in prison."
"For your husband?" Bob said.
"Yeah. Who did you think it was about?" I stonewalled.
"Oh, hey, what the fuck do I know?"
"Never mind. Yeah, I'll sing it, if you like."
Baez's marriage to Harris had, in fact, already ended by the time the song was written. In an interview with music writer Mike Ragogna, Baez later admitted that the character in the song is Dylan:
MR: "Diamonds And Rust" was another magic moment. You've said when you began writing the song, it started as something else until Dylan phoned you. Then it became about him. That must have been one hell of a call.
JB: He read me the entire lyrics to "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" that he'd just finished from a phone booth in the Midwest.
MR: What was the song about originally?
JB: I don't remember what I'd been writing about, but it had nothing to do with what it ended up as.
Dylan was likely touched by "Diamonds and Rust", and though the never discussed it, intuitively knew it was about him. He was also very impressed by Baez new way with song writing. And, once his relationship began falling apart, this time with his wife of 10 years Sara, and possibly prompted by the nostalgic song Baez wrote about Dylan, he began seeking Baez's free-spirited, passionate presence again. At this time, Dylan was in need of creative collaboration and envisioning a frolicking caravan of performing gypsies touring the country with a colorful band of merry clowns, performing loose, roots-based music and an accompanying film. Dylan asked Baez and many other musicians to join the tour, which was a great success. Dylan performed several duets and the chemistry was undeniably still there. Rumors suggest he and Baez rekindled their romance behind Sara's back and stories tell of a Sara with mascara running down her cheeks publicly confronting Dylan on evidence of his affairs. The film, Renaldo and Clara, turned out to be a thinly veiled version of Dylan's real life love triangle with Dylan and Sara playing the lead parts and Baez playing "the woman in white" that tempts and haunts Dylan's character.
Baez and Dylan singing "Never Let Me Go" during the Rolling Thunder Revue. Dylan's character is a take on a circus clown and old-fashioned hobo which is why he is wearing the white make-up.
A few sources have pointed to a time when Dylan and Baez discussed marriage. In Renaldo and Clara a scene where Baez's character The Woman in White and Dylan's character Renaldo chat at a bar she says "I got dressed up to come down here. I heard you were coming through town." she smiles embarrassingly. "What do you think it would have been like if we'd gotten married?" She switches wine glasses with him. Dylan responds, "I dunno. I haven't changed that much. Have you?" Smiling, as we hear her voice singing 'The Madonna was yours for free' in the song "Diamonds and Rust", she responds, "Maybe." The character the Gypsy compliments Joan on her white dress. "She looks like a bride, she's gonna get married today!" Later in the film, Baez's character The Woman in White walks into a room where Clara, played by Sara, and Renaldo are kissing. She looks shocked and confronts Renaldo. "Who is she?" asks a bitter Sara. A few scenes later, Baez watches as Dylan/Renaldo and Sara/Clara start to make love. Baez holds a rose. In the background, we hear Dylan and Baez harmonizing on "The Water Is Wide". At first Clara doesn't believe Baez knows Renaldo, but then Baez reads a letter Renaldo wrote. From the song in the background we hear "But love is old, and waxes cold, and fades away like morning dew." Dylan/Renaldo is caught in his adultery and looks like a guilty child. Sara/Clara and Baez do not seem surprised that he is guilty, but they begin to interrogate him. He gives evasive answers, similar to the answers Dylan always gives to reporters. Scenes of Dylan and Ginsberg in the cemetery at Lowell are intercut with this. Baez and Clara have now struck up a friendship as Renaldo looks uncomfortable. Baez says "Ten years I knew him and he never gave me a straight answer". He says "I'm a brother to you both." Baez, smirking, says "He'll never have to make another decision as long' as he lives."
Baez has since discussed their relationship at length in her own autobiographies, Martin Scorsese's Dylan rock documentary No Direction Home, her own documentary How Sweet the Sound, and numerous interviews. Dylan, as always, has remained tight lipped about past loves.