The introspective self-emboldening Diamonds and Rust is the first song to appear here from the phenomenal talent that is Joan Baez. It is so well-renowned because it tells of her turbulent relationship with fellow singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Diamonds and Rust doesn’t mention Bob’s name, but Baez admitted the lyrics refer to her relationship with him. While Diamonds was released in 1975 on the record by the same name, it recalls a phone-call from an old lover a decade earlier in Greenwich Village.
It is regarded by a number of critics and fans as one of her best compositions. This is my favourite song of hers, but I wouldn’t say I am familiar with a lot of her discography. Joan is heralded as one of the best interpreters of other songwriters compositions including of course Bob Dylan who she toured with most notably in the early 60’s and on the Rolling Thunder Revue – 1975. The two even sung at the famous Martin Luther King Jr inspired March on Washington in 63′.
A lot of people attribute Bob Dylan’s rapid rise to fame in the 60’s folk movement to Baez’s unfledged support of his musical endeavours. Before Dylan made a name Baez was already a popular figure in the folk community. She was so enamoured with Bob she often invited him to sing with her.
“Well, you burst on the scene already a legend / the unwashed phenomenon, the original vagabond…”
The relationship turned on its head after Dylan catapulted to stardom and he invited Joan to tour with him in England in 1965. The landmark music documentary of that 65′ tour – Don’t Look Back revealed Dylan never invited Joan on stage and she was left to just tag along like a fellow-groupie in Dylan’s entourage. Understandably she was incensed with how she was treated and the tour signalled the end of their relationship.
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
Diamonds and Rust was a top 40 hit on the U.S. pop singles chart and as aforementioned served as the title song on her gold-selling album Diamonds & Rust. Baez originally told Dylan that the song was about her ex-husband David Harris.
In her memoir, And a Voice to Sing With, Baez recounts a 1975 conversation between herself and Dylan, discussing songs to include in the then-upcoming Rolling Thunder Revue concerts:
“You gonna sing that song about robin’s eggs and diamonds?” Bob had asked me on the first day of rehearsals.
“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 fuck do I know?”
“Never mind. Yeah, I’ll sing it, if you like.”
In the 2009 American Masters documentary Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound, Dylan praised the song in an on-camera interview: “I love that song ‘Diamonds & Rust’. I mean, to be included in something that Joan had written, whew, I mean, to this day it still impresses me“.
Baez has performed the song no fewer than 234 times in concert. Even after the conclusion of her “Farewell Tour”, Baez performed the song as a duet with Lana Del Rey when she showed up as a surprise guest at a Del Rey concert in Berkeley, California on October 6, 2019.
1. Wikipedia – Diamonds and Rust