The younger sister of famous folk singer Joan Baez, Mimi was a lithe, doe-eyed girl who followed in her sister's musical and activism aspirations from a young age. She was an early folk fixture in Boston and Greenwich Village, seen strumming complimentary guitar parts and cooing high, airy harmonies behind her sister. Later, she was present for one of the most interesting folk periods: the peaking of Dylan's early career and the promising literary rising and untimely fall of her husband Richard Farina's short life. She was a folk musician in her own right, co-writing and playing on a few, underrated albums with Farina. She is such an amazing style muse and her angelic, dream-girl looks coupled with her quiet, complimentary disposition made her a lover and side-kick to bold, driven creative voices of the 60s and 70s.
Mimi Baez Fariña was born under the sign of the ram, 1945. The youngest of three daughters to a Scottish mother and a Mexican-American physicist, Mimi was talented but complimented-- never over-shadowing-- her bolder, older sister Joan. Mimi's disposition was quieter, more content, softer, sweet as candy, with a deeper awareness and concern for other fragile things. In old footage she glows like the idealized image of the decade: That long-haired, swan necked, au natural 70s girl, fresh and untouched, hair hanging loose down her back, the lean, long-limbed frame of a sprite; she was the type of girl shot in soft focus films like "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and gracing 70s greeting cards. Joan and oldest sister Pauline were quite different. Joan's looks were never complimented at an early age, her sister Mimi's more conventional beauty was overpowering, and even though Joan grew into the image of the folk madonna, she never seemed to be overly-concerned or self-assessing in her physical appearance. Joan's value was in her singing, her guitar playing, her quick wit, and her bold mind. Mimi was in awe of those traits that she so painfully wanted, but so plainly lacked. Mimi's dyslexia and timid nature made her covet Joan's ability to confidently turn a phrase in self-defense or in attack. Pauline was the sister who opted out... Early on, when Joan and Mimi teamed up to play guitar or socialize with friends, Pauline dropped out. She was often seen alone in her treehouse, a hermit homebody, seeking only more solace.
Being of mixed European and Latin American Indian heritage, the Baez girls had varying complexions and features. The oldest Baez girl was Pauline. Joan was often taunted for her more ethnic Mexican features and darker skin by her white schoolmates, and coveted Mimi's more European features and lighter complexion. Mimi had the same long frame as the girls in the magazine, the same thin long nose, and large round eyes. Their family regularly, openly compared the girls against one another, praising Mimi's beauty and calling her angelic. In the same token, they praised Joan's intellect and admonished Mimi for her dyslexia and inability to keep ahead of her studies. "Joan was very jealous of Mimi's looks. It was very hard for Joan. Joan always thought she was ugly, I think Mimi was just as jealous of Joan... Joan was so talented. They were both talented but, I don't know... I just know they loved each other so much I thought sometimes they'd kill each other" their mother once was said. Mimi and Joan were stuck together throughout their childhood like twins, but a feeling of competition and jealousy also remained throughout their lives.
By 1958, Father Albert Baez was working for MIT, oldest daughter Pauline was away at Drew University in New Jersey, and the younger girls were delving in the Cambridge folk scene, mixing with college students at the burgeoning cafe music spots around Boston. Joan, 17, was preparing for college at Boston University and Mimi, 13, was preparing for high school. As Joan developed talent on her steel-string Gibson, Mimi was by her side, figuring out harmonies on her gut-string Goya. They would often fall asleep, hearing each other play through the shared wall of their rooms, strumming chorus, memorizing lyrics, and repeating finger picking patterns endlessly into the night. For Mimi, guitar was not just a new challenge, it was also a place of solace where she sought refuge from the defeat she felt at school. She came home from school with letters swarming in her head, feeling dumb and not knowing why, she couldn't wait to pick up her guitar and teach herself lessons that made sense through new chord patterns and melodic phrasing.
Joan maintained her independence from the twitter-patted male folk following, staying single and unbridled well into her 20s, teenage Mimi quickly dove into a much too serious romances to an older man. Richard Farina was an aspiring writer and fixture on the Greenwich folk scene. His tall tales about his Irish/Cuban childhood adventures and exuberant Irish and Spanish influenced poetry readings made him a stand-out character and a person of interest for a young Bob Dylan. Some looked at him with a sneaking suspicion that he was an opportunist that latched on a little to hard to the local talents. Soon after arriving on the scene was snuggling up to rising folk star Carolyn Hester. She was a lovely All-American girl with pitch-perfect folk chops to boot. Fariña quickly ditched his former girl to wed Carolyn and soon after started, not only labeling himself a fellow musician, but also her new manager. While he was a very talented author and novice dulcimer player, it all seemed to happen too fast for onlookers.
One summer a group of folk friends invited Carolyn and Richard on a visit to France to see Mimi who had moved there with her parents. A mutual friend thought it a brilliant idea to introduce Carolyn and Mimi as they were two female singers he thought would share so much in common. Carolyn gave Mimi a cool hello as Richard gave her a second-over. As soon as Carolyn left Paris, Richard, who stayed a bit longer, siezed the moment alone to secretly write Mimi a poem for her upcoming 17th birthday:
"And now as breezes shudder in the orchard,
thick with rhyme and loosed of somber reason--
thought and motion raise their head as one.
Your sudden dance is free of all design.
Young girl, you chose the amber coil of wish,
unlocked it with the cocking of a heel
and stepped away. While in the lunge of flight
I know the tale in your dark body's book."
Farina, ever the opportunist, submitted the poem to Mademoiselle magazine, dedicated to Mimi, with a note to the editor that the poem was based on his "growing relationship with the Baez family". Meanwhile, Mimi, despite knowing Fariña was married, was falling head over heels "I never had a poet writing poetry to me.... I didn't know what was happening, really. But he was so incredibly appealing-- I couldnt help thinking about him and fantasizing about with him and maybe even spending my life with him." The letters and poems continued to flow while Fariña was in London, one, two sometimes six a day. While Carolyn was flying here and there to make high profile appearances at folk events, Richard was sneaking in appointments to meet Mimi in various UK cities. Carolyn soon picked up on her husband's shady activities and planned to get back to the US as soon as possible to file papers if necessary. Meanwhile, the transatlantic folk circles were buzzing about the bond between the famed Carolyn Hester's husband and folk heroine Joan Baez's teen sister. Richard seemed to love the free, albeit negative, publicity and mocked the gossip as he continued to write love notes to Mimi. But Joan soon caught wind of the gossip quickly tried to nip this budding relationship in the bud. Mimi's parents found little impressive about Fariña and were suspicious of his over-zealous charisma, picking up a creepy vibe from him. Joan was afraid this rat was trying to bed her sister as a way to get in with her rising career and called her sister on a exorbinantly expensive international call from CA, USA to FR to tell her so. Mimi was torn between her sister's warning and Fariña's persuasive letters talking about their torrid romance and future marriage. "Here was somebody who was old enough to take care of a lot of stuff I didnt understand, like how to cook food, how to go shopping, how to live in the world, who felt like taking care of me-- and who was professing to a kind of commitment that I was socked by at first but that I absolutely needed." Finally Baez and Fariña summoned the courage to ask her parents to get married and they consented, because she was turning 18 anyway and there wasn't much they could do after that. Joan found out and was livid. This time she rang Fariña, pelting him with questions until he felt rotten. Fariña wrote Mimi and they decided to seal the deal secretly in Paris, and before her parents allowed it. She snuck out one day to meet him, they both said 'oui' in a civil ceremony and kissed. Mimi promptly jumped on the train to head home. She was scolded for being late, ate her dinner, did her homework, and went to bed.
After a year and a half in Europe, Mimi and Richard jumped ship to California and had a formal wedding ceremony in California with friends and family, including Farina's bestie pre-fame Dylan Pynchon. Meanwhile, Bob Dylan went from being a folk underdog opening act at Joan Baez's shows, to a rising star, quickly eclipsing Baez and the old guard of folk. She believed in his music and the power of his lyrics and the two quickly became an item with strange dimensions. They forged a close friendship through humor, but with strange power dimensions, Baez being the more successful, more popular of the two in the beginning and just starting to enjoy her wealth. She had a lovely house built in the winding coast of Carmel, California and invited 'Bobby' to stay with her there. Despite her success as a gifted guitarist and singer, she wasn't a songwriter nor a lyricist, instead she acted as a patron to Dylan whose words were quickly being branded as the 'voice of the generation'. She took on a very maternal, wifely role, shaping her daily schedule around supporting him as he pumped out poetry and material for song lyrics from her living room. After waking up at 10 or 11 am for coffee and breakfast, Bob would head straight for the type writer and pound out poems all day using his two pointer fingers. Joan would bring him snacks and as the day progressed and his poems got longer, coffee became wine.
By 1965, Joan and Bob's joint tour schedule exposed Dylan to the mainstream folk audience and brought him attention in his own right. While Joan's interests delved further and further into the protest movement and politics, Dylan became less political focused and his lyrics centered more around personal relationships. As they started to go in different personal and professional directions, Richard Fariña's first novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me, was set to be published and he and Mimi were cutting tracks for their second album "Reflections on a Crystal Wind". Baez and Dylan were splitting up, while the Fariña's were tighter than ever. With Dylan out of the picture, Fariña got close to Joan, giving her musical guidance and enjoying his influence on her career. Meanwhile, Joan got the Fariña's on the bill at folk festivals and the three continued to remain closely linked. Meanwhile, Dylan was turning his back on the traditional folk scene, 'going electric' and secretly courting his future wife Sara Lownds. He lambasted his former friends in the press calling Mimi 'just a lamp', Fariña a 'bullshitter', and Baez 'neither here nor there'.
Thirty minutes after Fariña and Hinds zoomed off, the party goers saw fog rolling in and began to get concerned when they failed to see the guys return. Sirens were heard in the distance and a group jumped in a car to see what was the matter. They came upon a group of police officers surrounding an accident "the driver seems fine but the passenger didn't make it" Mimi showed the policeman Richard's wallet. "He's at the morgue, ma'am". Her head was spinning. Willie and Richard had been heading back to the party when, speeding around a curve, Willie leaned with the curve while Farina leaned the opposite direction, sending the bike up a five foot embankment. Willie crashed through a fence while Farina went flying into the rocky coastline he loved. He died instantly. "I grew up fast" Mimi said. She spent the rest of her birthday mourning her husband's death. After more than a week after his death, Mimi returned back to the home they shared to find a dead bouquet of orange roses he left for her on the table, next to a pair of shoes for her, and a birthday card. Later that year, Dylan had his own brush with death on a motorcycle in Woodstock, New York.
After a period of mourning, Mimi decided to make a new start in San Francisco pursuing her dancing. Mimi continued to follow musicians and actors, experimenting with dancing and staying connected to the bohemian art scene of the 60s. In 1968 Mimi recorded her first solo album "Memories" with Vanguard. Later that fall, she married a gentle giant, music producer and radio announcer Milan Melvin, in a gorgeous hippie style ceremony during the Big Sur music festival, but the rebound marriage was short-lived and the couple split in 1970. Finally, Mimi started to shake off the 'widow' label and take back her young life. She started persuing folk music again, this time with Tom Jans, introduced to her by Joan. Mimi and Tom toured together and crafted the most signature song of her career "In the Quiet Morning". But soon, Richard Fariña's ghost reappeared as his work became of interest again, with her record company seeking to reprise his music with Mimi and celebrate his career with a film and book retrospective. The demands of Mimi to work on commemorative Fariña material took over the duo of Tom and Mimi and the two split. Mimi's work took a non-commercial turn after these toward benefit concerts and social awareness events where she often performed with Joan. She founded Bread and Roses, an NGO that links soulful musical performances to those in need of encouragement, from inmates to the homeless.
Read more about this scene and the strange love pentagrams in past muse posts on Dylan - Baez and Suze Rotolo.
Image source: here