Joan Baez: Playing For 'Tomorrow' Joan Baez's sterling voice, the songs she sings and her commitment to society's underdogs have had a profound influence on American culture. Baez talks about her new record, Day After Tomorrow, and performs songs from the album at NPR's New York studio.
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Joan Baez: Playing For 'Tomorrow'

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Joan Baez: Playing For 'Tomorrow'

Joan Baez: Playing For 'Tomorrow'

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From NPR News this is Weekend Edition. I'm Liane Hansen. "Time flies" is an old adage, but one that applies to our next guest. Fifty years ago, Joan Baez first appeared at Club 47 in Boston. Her sterling voice, the songs she sings, and her staunch commitment to society's underdogs have had a profound influence on our culture. To list her causes and the records she has made would leave no time for conversation. So I'll just tell you that Joan Baez has released her first studio recording in five years. It's called "Day After Tomorrow." And she's in our New York Studio with her guitar. Welcome back to the program, Joan.

Ms. JOAN BAEZ (Singer-Songwriter): Thank you very much. It's my pleasure. ..TEXT: HANSEN: It's a pleasure to have you back. I have to say, straight off the bat, this is going to be a little unlike the interview we did, I don't know many years ago - 12, something like that. We actually invited listeners to send in questions for you. So, I want you to listen to the first one. This is Susan Wood(ph) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Ms. SUSAN WOOD (Caller): Hi, Liane. And hi, Joan.

Ms. BAEZ: Hi, there.

Ms. WOOD: My father, Robert Wood(ph), who's now 94 years old, went to Oakwood School, which is a Quaker boarding school in upstate New York. And he said that in his senior year, which was 1933, he was president of the student council and that Joan Baez's mother, who was named Joan Bridge at that time, was vice president. So my question is, first, is Joan's mother still alive? And my second question is has she ever mentioned my father, Robert Wood?

Ms. BAEZ: My mother is still alive. She's 95, and she's going like a firecracker. And I don't know about the name of the person, but I know my mother was there at Oakwood.

HANSEN: You, in fact, dedicate your record, the "Day After Tomorrow," to her.

Ms. BAEZ: I do, and she was so sweet. I said, mama, check this out. And she saw it and she goes, oooh. Oh, how exciting.

HANSEN: Her name in print. What influence has she had on you?

Ms. BAEZ: Tremendous influence on me. My mom - she became a Quaker when I was eight years old. Mom, just in my opinion, had natural instincts towards non-violence, towards nature. And I've remained very close to her, and she lives about shouting distance from me. And I get to see her grow old, and I get to hopefully see her die. And that's very important to me. I'm very, very happy to have her there. ..TEXT: HANSEN: You're going to play for us.

Ms. BAEZ: I am, indeed.

HANSEN: The first song on the CD is what you're going to play for us, and it's called "God is God" and it's written by Steve Earle, who's your producer on this recording. Tell us something about this song.

Ms. BAEZ: The song confused me at first because it's saying God is God. I'm not God, we're not God, etcetera. So I said, well, Steve, what's the deal? I thought we had this sort of thing about we are God, and God is within us, and so on. He said, this is recovery speak. Because in recovery speak, you turn yourself over to your higher power that's something outside of you, and it could be a door knob. But in fact, for many people, it is God. ..TEXT: HANSEN: And I'll just preface your playing and let people know that you are joined in the studio by guitarist John Doyle.

(Soundbite of song "God is God")

Ms. BAEZ: (Singing) Two, three, four. I believe in prophecy. Some folks see things not everybody can see. Once in a while, they pass a secret along to you and me. And I believe in miracles. Some things stay good in every bush and tree, And we can all learn to sing the songs of the angels. But I believe in God, and God ain't me. I've traveled around the world, Stood on mighty mountains and gazed across the wilderness. I've never seen a line in the sand or a diamond in the dust, And as our fate unfurls, Every day that passes I'm sure about a little bit less. Even my money keeps telling me it's God I need to trust. But I believe in God, and God ain't us. God, am I a little understanding, Don't care what name I call. Whether or not I believe doesn't matter at all. I received the blessings. Every day on earth is another chance to get it right. Let that little light of mine shine and rage against the night. Just another lesson. Maybe someone's watching and wondering what I got. And maybe this is why I'm here on earth, and maybe not. But I believe in God, and God is God.

HANSEN: Joan Baez with John Doyle performing in our New York studio. That's "God is God." It's the first cut on her brand new CD called "Day After Tomorrow." Joan, have always considered yourself more of an interpreter of songs than, say, a songwriter?

Ms. BAEZ: Yeah. I didn't write anything until I was high up in my 20s. I started singing when I was 18 or 19. And it never dawned on me. And all of a sudden everybody around me was writing songs. And then somebody said, why don't you write a song? So I did. And I wrote intermittently for a long, long time. Then about 10 years ago, I slipped back into interpreting.

HANSEN: As I mentioned, we've invited listeners to ask some questions. This is our second listener question. This is Sheila Sullivan(ph) in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ms. SHEILA SULLIVAN (Caller): Hi, Liane. And hi, Joan. During your long and successful career, you've raised your incredible voice in so many songs of protest, songs of the underdog, songs of hope, of struggle, always songs with a powerful social message. I'd like to find out if you consider yourself to be a feminist. And if you do, how do you express your feelings and thought on the issue? And if you are not, why not?

Ms. BAEZ: Very good question. I don't stand up very well in the feminist community, and I think it's because two things. One, I never kind of took on either women or brown power or black power. I just stuck with people are people. And the other thing is that, I think when you're the entertainer, you're treated a different way from the people who are really trying to get ahead in whatever business it is. I think it's unique for singers because once you become a -pardon the expression - a star, they don't care what sex you are.

HANSEN: You know, one thing, Joan, you've always been a champion of young songwriters. Many years ago, you appeared on this program with Dora Williams. And you're going to perform a song for us by Eliza Gilkeson, "Rose of Sharon." Why do you like this song?

Ms. BAEZ: Well, this song, particularly, on this album, it sounds like what we were looking for. We were looking for new songs sounding like an old folk song. And the reason for that is that this album is already very much like my roots many years ago. And we look at it as a kind of bookend to the very beginning. And it does sound like home.

(Soundbite of song "Rose of Sharon")

Ms. BAEZ: (Singing) Three, four. I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley. As a lily grown among the songs, love in this world has found me. As an apple tree among the trees that grow deep in the forest, My lover's farm is (unintelligible) of life and (unintelligible). Rise up my love and come away, Rain is over and gone. You are the fruit of my day, And I am your rose of Sharon. As gentle hand lies under my hand, His shoulder turns to face me. I shall not stir him from my bed while he does so embrace me. Oh give me wine to pass the time, Though none of him can sooth me. I am my beloved and he is mine. A desire for his pleasure moves me. Rise up, my love, a gone away, The rain is over and gone. You are the fruit of my day, And I am your rose of Sharon. Rise up my love and come away, The rain is over and gone. You are the fruit of my day, And I am your rose of Sharon.

HANSEN: "Rose of Sharon," performed by Joan Baez with John Doyle in our New York studio. The song was written by Eliza Gilkeson, and it appears on Joan Baez's new album "Day after Tomorrow." It does sound like an old English folk song. And when you said it's kind of like bookending your career, you started out doing that sort of thing, and you're coming back to it, how do you think you've grown as a performer?

Ms. BAEZ: I know I suppose I'm like anybody. I changed in little bits and pieces. I mean, I used to be absolutely terrified. I was phobic about going on the stage, and a lot of other troubles. And then, as I got older and had different kinds of therapy, and I don't mind saying that, though people have written to me and said, really? Because they want to get some help, but they're afraid they'll be criticized for it. At any rate, lots of doctors held me together, and then at a certain point about 20 years ago, I knew I had to fall apart and start at the beginning, which is what I did. And so I'm very different now after this many years of working and not working at it.

HANSEN: Our last listener question comes from Anne Hagget(ph) of Dillon, Montana.

Ms. ANNE HAGGET (Caller): Hi, Joan.

Ms. BAEZ: Hi there.

Ms. HAGGET: Your music really nourished me through the '60s. One of the songs that you sang haunts me still. And I wonder if you could speak to the origin and the specific situation that prompted your song "Deportees."

Ms. BAEZ: First of all, I lived in Southern California. And we had a lot of illegal immigrants and never really thought twice about it. And they took care of all the orange groves. And "Deportees" is a story about what it must be like for an immigrant. When I started singing "Deportees," I made a little t-shirt that said on the front, "We are all illegal immigrants." And on the back, my son created a little feather, as in Native Americans.

HANSEN: Forgive my memory, but who wrote that song?

Ms. BAEZ: Woody Guthrie.

HANSEN: That's what I thought. Are you involved in causes now?

Ms. BAEZ: You know, I'll always be in causes - involved in causes for one degree or another. I must tell you, however, that right now I'm spending time with my family. It's something I didn't do in the '60s or the '70s, much I got too busy. My mother is 95, my son 38, my grandchild five. It's a bunch of generations that I would like to be around. And I know that some people don't have that image of me, but they can get one. It's very important to me. And then, you know, a tour like this and a talk from the stage, and at the same time, I know I represent history. And so half the job is already done for me.

HANSEN: Joan Baez. Her new CD is called "Day After Tomorrow." And it's on the Razor and Tie label. She joined us from our New York bureau. Our thanks to our engineer there Manya(ph), and our engineer in floor A, Neil Tivolt(ph). And most of all my thanks to Joan Baez. Thank you so much.

Ms. BAEZ: Liane, thank you very, very much. I love your program.

HANSEN: To hear all the songs, go to the music page of our Web site. And to see a video of Joan's performance, go to Here's Joan Baez with the song that is not on the CD, "Lily of the West."

(Soundbite of song "Lily of the West")

Ms. BAEZ: (Singing) When first I came to Louisville, Some pleasure there to find. A damsel there from Lexington, Was pleasing to my mind. Her rosy cheeks, her ruby lips, Like arrows pierced my breast. And the name she bore was Flora, The Lily of the West...

HANSEN: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News, I'm Liane Hansen.

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