Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Diamonds and Rust" (1975)

31. Joan Baez, "Diamonds and Rust" (Nov. 8, 1975, #35)

At this moment, listening to this song again, I want to go back and redo the whole list in order to push this to the top. It sounds so good—better than ever. I've spent most of a lifetime undervaluing Joan Baez (who I once uncharitably referred to in print as "Joan Baezzz"—I'd like to apologize for that now). But even in my self-important fatuousness I could hear this song for what it was back when it barely crested the charts to qualify as a hit: the gorgeous, sweetly bruised song of lost opportunity and poignant, rueful regret. "Regret" may not be the right word—there's no connotation of blame or fault-finding here, only sadness, joy found and lost. It can't be much surprise that this emerged out of the welter of Bob Dylan's wildly acclaimed (and, I have always thought, somewhat overstated) mid-'70s divorce album Blood on the Tracks. His great return to form, and all that. Six months later, Joan Baez stepped up to offer this memoir, etched in her soul. It starts with a phone call and a voice from long ago heard once again, and then drifts back into memory and nostalgia denied: "Now I see you standing with brown leaves falling all around / And snow in your hair / Now you're smiling out the window of that crummy hotel / Over Washington Square / Our breath comes out white clouds / Mingles and hangs in the air / Speaking strictly for me / We both could have died then and there." The words are wrought carefully, with concrete images of seasons in change and a steadfast tacking away from sloppy confession. The melody is haunting, the musical setting a lush '70s production, helmed by a voice that could shatter glass if it wanted, a story told without self-pity.


  1. Christian von Schack8:14 AM, November 27, 2010

    The Judas Priest cover ain't half bad either, believe it or not. But yes, perhaps her finest hour.

  2. The Judas Priest cover is definitely worthy, and an interesting choice on their part, particularly coming just two years later. Seems to be a big hit with their fans to this day.