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BAEZ Print-ready version

a portrait of the singer as a politically committed voice from the U.S. new left

by Melinda McCracken
Toronto Globe and Mail
July 26, 1969
Original article: PDF

TWO OF THE MOST ATTRACTIVE performers at this year's Mariposa Festival are Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. For two lovely women in the same profession they could not be more different. Miss Mitchell, the sweet songstress from Saskatchewan, who performed last night, is blond, and appears almost as a vision when she sings, so overflowing with music and poetry is she. She is a walking mystique, carrying in her songs and her imagination pictures and images from her personal life which she has woven into magical lilting songs and which carry her audiences with her into her dreams.

She lives in Laurel Canyon, Calif. Where she owns a house filled with stained glass and antiques. She is wealthy, having achieved the next-to-impossible - been recognized as a major talent simply by being her sweet, profound self. She is one of the few artists whose dues have paid off.

Joan Baez represents the other artistic position - that of political commitment - which allies her with the U.S. folk tradition of protest singing, born in the thirties, and perpetuated by a handful of courageous performers, notably Pete Seeger.

Miss Baez also lives in California, in Carmel, where she and Ira Sandperl set up the Institute for Studies in Non-Violence in 1965. She refuses to pay the percentage of her taxes which would go to support war - 72 per cent. As a result, the U.S. Government relieved her bank account of $50,000 on one occasion, and attaches the profits from her concerts. They get the money, but they have to spend money to do so.

The position Miss Baez has chosen is unpopular and one demanding the utmost from an individual conscience. For most people. It's fine to decide the moral position in the draft resistance situation is to accept a jail sentence and serve it - fine for other people. Faced with a choice of spending three years in prison or a possible excape to Canada, most people would choose the latter.

The non-violent position is often the most heavily penalized. By refusing to be violent, one questions the necessity for violence at all.

But it costs a good deal to keep conscience and principles intact. Miss Baez had paid a handsome price already. She has been arrested several times, banned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and censored on the Smothers Brothers show when she said her husband David Harris had been sent to prison. The reason - he refused induction - was deleted from the program.

Miss Baez is living the timeless legend of woman celebrated in traditional folk ballads. Harris was arrested July 16 for resisting the draft and is in the San Francisco county jail. Joan, her long black hair, cropped short, and expecting a baby in December, is waiting steadfastly for her husband's return.

Miss Baez will appear at Mariposa tomorrow night, and will conduct a workshop today from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. She is accompanied by two guitarists, Jeffry and Fondle, both draft resisters. She is coming to Mariposa for the Festival's nominal fee of $75 a day, plus travel expenses and accommodation.

"I've decided not to charge more than $2 a ticket for a concert, so that it's first come, first served. It's most simpatico that way. Instead of having the front rows filled with people who can afford a high price and my people waving at me from the balcony. I love seeing those faces right up by the stage.

"In the past, I used to turn things over to a manager, who usually wanted to try and squeeze as much money as possible out of people. But the way I feel about my voice is that since it was a gift to me, it should be a gift to everyone. I'd much prefer to have free concerts, but it takes a long time to work into a position to do that. We have to be paid enough money to support ourselves. The best way is to perform at folk festivals. About Harris's arrest, she said: "We refused induction about a year ago. For a year, there were different kinds of appeals. On Jun 10 our last appeal was denied, and we knew they would arrest David any time after July 10. They waited until the sixteenth." She was due to perform at a free outdoor concert in Montreal with Pete Seeger the weekend of July 12, but since David was about to be arrested, the concert was postponed for a week.

Miss Baez talks in a warm, even, you might say, ultimately sensible voice. She is a realist, determined to face the conflicts in the United States head on.

"There really isn't any chance of him being released early," she continued calmly. "A prisoner is only released early if he's been particularly good. David is not apt to be good. He's trying to continue the resistance work in jail, to break down the psychology of prisons, causing an eventual strike. He'll carry on the revolution there. I expect him to be there for the whole three years. I knew when we were married he might spend five years in jail. It really hasn't hit me yet."

She said that some draft resisters in an Arizona jail were sentenced to build weapons, "which David would never accept."

"There are two ways to go to jail - accidentally and intentionally. Both of us will spend some time in and out of jail. It would be nicer to have him out, of course.

"There is really no non-violent movement. The resistance and non-violence people associate it with one or another person. We're fighting the draft and exploitation, and we want to do it without violence. We do it by appealing to the humanity, trying to draw it out of people. The usual argument is that Gandhi dealt with the British that way, but they wound up machine gunning the people, isn't true. By refusing to give people a reason to shoot, it's an attempt to appeal to their civilized instincts. I don't know what our chances are of making a dent. It's really getting insane."

Harris is writing a book, to be called Goliath. "Goliath is all the things we're up against in the Fascist society. You'll have to read it to know what it's about. David can't write it in prison, and get it out legally, but he'll work that out in prison."

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