Joan Baez writes, ‘We both know what memories can bring, They bring diamonds and rust’. The phrase ‘Diamonds and Rust’ is the perfect image for memories. The song evokes all of the emotions of a long-ago romance; longing, regret, romance and hope. As Joan was the muse for many of Dylan’s great songs, it’s illuminating to hear her, the muse’s voice. Joan’s gets down to the essence of Dylan as much as anyone ever could.
The song begins with the iconic, ‘Well I’ll be damned, Here comes your ghost again, But that’s not unusual, It’s just that the moon is full, And you happened to call’. Baez sets the scene with ‘And here I sit, Hand on the telephone, Hearing a voice I’d known, A couple of light years ago, Heading straight for a fall’. Joan cinematically evokes the classic romantic scene of a man calling an old lover from a far away, mysterious place with ‘Where are you calling from? A booth in the midwest’.
Joan captures Dylan’s voice perfectly. I can almost hear him saying to Joan that her poetry is ‘lousy’ after she says, ‘your eyes, Were bluer than robin’s eggs’. Dylan’s famous vagueness is evoked brilliantly with, ‘Where are you calling from? A booth in the midwest’.
‘Well you burst on the scene, Already a legend, The unwashed phenomenon, The original vagabond’ paints the image of the early Dylan. Joan alludes to herself as ‘the madonna’, which was her public persona and the way she is often portrayed in Dylan’s songs. Baez re-envisions the early days of her relationship with Bob Dylan in ‘You strayed into my arms, And there you stayed, Temporarily lost at sea, The Madonna was yours for free, Yes the girl on the half-shell, Would keep you unharmed’.
When Bob and Joan began their relationship Joan was already the Queen of Folk and the public face of the Folk Protest Movement whilst Dylan was an up-and-coming singer-songwriter in Greenwich Village. Joan recorded Dylan’s songs and invited Dylan on her concert tours thus helping to popularise him and his music.
Before she began recording Dylan’s work, Joan focused on centuries old traditional folk music so Dylan’s work brought a contemporary political and social message to her music. Joan and Bob split up after Dylan famous 1965 tour of Britain by which time Dylan was a Superstar and in the midst of a personal and musical transition.
An extremely romantic scene from their romance is evoked with ‘Now I see you standing, With brown leaves falling 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’.
The million dollar question- what does Bob Dylan think about the song? Bob and Joan talk about the song in ‘How Sweet The Sound’, the documentary on Joan. Joan reveals she was writing a song about something else then got a call from Bob! Bob said, ‘I love that song, ‘Diamonds and Rust’. To be included in something that Joanie had written! WOOH! I mean to this day it still impresses me.’
Joan Baez gets to the heart of Dylan as well as any could with the insight, ‘Now you’re telling me,You’re not nostalgic, Then give me another word for it, You who are so good with words, And at keeping things vague’. The song ends on a note of closure with ‘Because I need some of that vagueness now, It’s all come back too clearly, Yes I loved you dearly, And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust, I’ve already paid’.
Joan and Bob co-starred in the Dylan-directed film, ‘Renaldo and Clara’. In the film Dylan plays with identities and explores relationships.Dylan plays on what the audience already knows about his relationship with Joan Baez, in a semi-autiobiographical, semi-fictional way thus blurring the lines between reality and fiction.
Watch to Joan and Bob discuss their relationship in Martin Scorsese’s fascinating Dylan documentary, ‘No Direction Home’. Check out the Joan Baez documentary, ‘How Sweet The Sound’, to hear Dylan talk about Joan, and for great archive footage.