This summer I decided to reread Joan Baez’ memoir “And A Voice To Sing With.” When it came out 30 years ago in 1987, I could hardly wait to get my hands on it! All through the 1960s and the subsequent decades, I absolutely idolized her.

To me, Joan Baez was a saint, the Madonna, a voice of reason for my generation.
To me, Joan Baez was a saint, the Madonna, a voice of reason for my generation.

Her music and her politics had a deep impact on me. Her antiwar and human rights campaigns dovetailed with everything I knew in my heart to be right. She was a saint, the Madonna, a voice of reason for my generation.

She was a saint, the Madonna, a voice of reason for my generation.

So imagine the shock when I started to read her brutally honest memoir to discover that she was also human – deeply troubled, insecure, fearful and controlling. How dare she shatter my fantasy of her as this object of worship.

Illusions shattered!

Having knocked herself down off the pedestal I’d put her on, the book languished in my book case for the next three decades. In fact, it was seared into my mind as one of my more disagreeable reading experiences.

Redemption through perception…
Imagine again the surprise this summer when I reread her memoir and the same book – those very same words – lifted her back up in my estimation. But this time, for different reasons.

Now, I am really touched by her honesty. I am in awe of the courage she has had to confront her fears, stage fright being just one of them. Her determination to not let her insecurities hold her back. The truth is that I find her accomplishments all the more remarkable given the personal demons she has had to overcome.

From idol to flesh and blood…

Instead of an unattainable idol, Joan Baez is now a real person I can relate to. Her demons are the same as many of my own, and those most of us struggle with throughout our lives.

Farewell? I am only now truly appreciating the woman!
Farewell? I am only now truly appreciating the woman!

Perhaps it has required me to become more at peace with my own flaws and insecurities to be able to accept and empathize with those of others. A lifetime of stumbles has given me a great deal of respect for what we all go through.

The key to a good life is not to try and be perfect. That ain’t gonna happen. Instead, we need to take what we have been given and make the most of it.

Joan Baez doesn’t take any credit for her remarkable voice. That was a gift bestowed on her. But her crusade for justice, her marches and speeches for civil rights, worker rights and against war, backed up by her stirring vocals, have made her one of the most powerful voices for reason and for peace.

Thank you, Joan, for being part of my journey through life.

Ferdi Businger

 

 

When you go home Tell them of us, and say “For your tomorrow We gave our today.”