Diamonds and Rust – Joan Baez

Joan Baez with Bob Dylan
Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. 08/28/1963

About 3 years ago Tinkerbell first introduced me to the works of Joan Baez, and soon ‘Diamonds and Rust’ by Baez made its way to my ‘Top 25 played songs’ in iPod/iTunes. In the song, written and performed in 1975, Baez recounts an out-of-the-blue phone call from an old lover, which sends her a decade back in time. If I try to summarize the song in one sentence, it will be –  “memories bring ‘diamonds and rust’”, i.e. time turns dirty charcoal into beautiful diamonds and shiny metal into ugly rust.

It is  believed that the song describes Baez’s relationship with Bob Dylan, ten years prior. The fact was confirmed by Baez herself during an interview with music writer Mike Ragogna.

MR: “Diamonds And Rust” was another magic moment. You’ve said when you began writing the song, it started as something else until Dylan phoned you. Then it became about him. That must have been one helluva call.

JB: He read me the entire lyrics to “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts” that he’d just finished from a phone booth in the Midwest.

MR: What was the song about originally?

JB: I don’t remember what I’d been writing about, but it had nothing to do with what it ended up as.

But in Baez’s memoir, And a Voice to Sing With, she recounted how she told Dylan that the song was actually about her husband David Harris.

The following excerpt shows Baez’s rendition of this conversation between her and Dylan:

“You gonna sing that song about robin’s eggs and diamonds?” Bob had asked me on the first day of rehearsals.
“Which one?”
“You know, that one about blue eyes and diamonds…”
“Oh”, I said, “you must mean ‘Diamonds And Rust’, the song I wrote for my husband, David. I wrote it while he was in prison.”
“For your husband?” Bob said.
“Yeah. Who did you think it was about?” I stonewalled.
“Oh, hey, what the f*** do I know?”
“Never mind. Yeah, I’ll sing it, if you like.”

Here goes the lyrics of “Diamonds And Rust”

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

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

As I remember your eyes

Were bluer than robin’s eggs

My poetry was lousy you said

Where are you calling from?

A booth in the midwest

Ten years ago

I bought you some cufflinks

You brought me something

We both know what memories can bring

They bring diamonds and rust

Well you burst on the scene

Already a legend

The unwashed phenomenon

The original vagabond

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

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

Speaking strictly for me

We both could have died then and there

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

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

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