American Masters: Joan Baez

Clearing off the DVR and watched the American Masters documentary on Joan Baez. I like the series, they’re always really well done. For me documentaries are really about access and timing, and they got access to a lot of great people for this documentary – Joan herself, Bob Dylan, David Crosby, Jesse Jackson. They put together a ton of footage of her (apparently news crews followed her around like a puppy) and did a good job of telling the story of her rise and her political career and the conflicts within it. The section about her visit to Vietnam was particularly harrowing. Imagine visiting a foreign country as a pacifist to learn more about the conflict and experiencing the longest carpet bombing of the year war. The way she looked afterwards reminds me of the pre, during, and post images of soldiers. She looked older, more tired, and more defeated.

A couple of things struck me. One is that it was clear to whoever was filming that there was still a lot of affection between Joan Baez and her ex-husband, Roger McGuinn, and the filmmakers captured it. There were some shots where they held on Baez while she listened to Roger while they talked together and there was a light in her eyes. It was sweet to see.

The other thing that struck me is the contrast between this and the documentary I recently watched about Lemmy from Motörhead. In that one Lemmy is the star, and he’s still alive, and one of the things that they focus on is he seems to be some kind of superhuman in terms of how much garbage he put (and puts) into his body and is still alive. In one scene he takes questions on a radio show – a caller says, “How do you survive all the drugs and booze and smoking?” and he says “don’t try it, I’ve lost many friends to this stuff that hasn’t killed me.” Some of the people they interviewed were 20 years younger than Lemmy (Captain Sensible and Ozzy were interviewed but not many others who were in bands at the time he began Motörhead).

Imagine a current documentary about Nirvana and having access to Kurt Cobain. “Well, commercial success really seemed hard on Nirvana – what’s your take, Kurt?” That’s what this was like. Baez wrote, toured with, and dated Bob Dylan for a while. Who did they go to for a source? Among others, Baez and Bob Dylan. “What was that like?” “Well, it was like this…” they said. Is this because folk singers lead more gentle lifestyles? I was surprised because many musical documentaries (musicomentaries? this definitely wasn’t a rockumentary because there was no rock) are half documentary and half obituary. And Baez has aged really well. This may be due to her living peace and love part of the 60’s but not the rock and roll, but she looks well and happy. And a little like my mom, unsettlingly. I think you can download it or buy it from the link.

One thought on “American Masters: Joan Baez

  1. I just read today that Damon Albarn considers heroin a huge creative asset. It made me so sad, not just because we all know how this story ends, but also because he is so creative, so unique and prescient and such a gift to his fans. I bet the twenty years down the road Damon would have some things to say to himself. I wish the Motorhead guy would call him up.
    I think JB kind of looks like Mom, too. There’s a look.

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