Legendary singer-songwriters, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, were both devoted to their music and the political values they shared.
When they met early in their careers, there was an instant spark. The two shared musical ideas and a romance, but why did it fall apart?
Let’s take a look!
What Was the Relationship Between Bob Dylan and Joan Baez?
Dylan and Baez met in New York in 1961. Baez was already famous then, and she helped Dylan by letting him share her stage and sing with her.
In a recent documentary by Martin Scorsese, Rollicking Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, the legendary singer talks about his impressions of Baez, referring to her as Joany.
He describes her “heart-stopping soprano” and how he tried to play guitar the way she did. He says she’s courageous and seems like she’s just come down from a meteor. (We’re not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds like a compliment.)
Baez says she never met anyone before or since with charisma like Dylan’s.
With great respect for each other’s talent and shared excitement for the future, they began dating and touring together. Both musicians were passionate about protest songs, and they worked to make change through their music.
Baez and Dylan sang about the corruption and greed of the ruling class and about overthrowing the rich. Their music condemned the justice system, the Cold War, and race-related violence.
The End of a Super-Couple
As their fame grew, Dylan’s star shone faster and brighter than Baez’s. And he had the ego to match.
The more shows Dylan played, the less time he had for Baez. This situation came to a head during a European tour in 1965. She had been performing with him, but he abruptly said he didn’t want her onstage with him.
They broke up their romantic relationship but still played together off and on.
In 2009, Dylan finally apologized to Baez for the way things ended in 1965. He said he was caught up in his career and lost sight of her. Dylan also added that he wanted to protect her from the madness of his world at the time.
Baez says she was crazy about him but admits she may have pushed too hard for him to be more politically active. She also remembers feeling like an outsider because she didn’t do drugs.
As things stand now, Dylan is openly apologetic about his behavior in the ’60s and still praises Baez’s voice. While Baez can still appreciate the time and music they had together, she also says she doesn’t care if she ever sees him again.
Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
Rolling Stone says Like a Rolling Stone is Dylan’s top hit. We suspect some bias in that statement, but they’re right. There are even entire books about the piece.
The song depicted the present-day struggles with biting humor, but it also paved the way for the future. Musically and lyrically, Like a Rolling Stone influenced punk and other genres.
Radio DJs were hesitant to play the hit because it was six minutes long, yet it quickly shot to #2 on the charts.
Visions of Johanna is considered one of Dylan’s very best, and a UK Poet Laureate proclaimed its lyrics are the best written. And it’s almost certainly about Joan Baez.
Dylan has yet to confirm that, but the imagery fits. He seems unusually ambiguous about the woman at the center.
In the song, he references Madonna and Mary. One of Baez’s nicknames is the Barefoot Madonna. Dylan sings about being obsessed with visions of Johanna, but Johanna is so close to Joan that it almost certainly refers to Baez.
Joan Baez’s Greatest Hits
Baez’s biggest hit was Diamonds and Rust, but we’ll get to that one.
While she’s written some great songs, Baez is best known for reinterpreting the work of other artists.
One example is her cover of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Initially recorded by The Band, Baez’s version charted higher, mainly thanks to her powerful vocals.
Baez is also known for her performance of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.
Her lilting voice carries the song. It’s easy to imagine Dylan and Baez singing it to each other, saying they accept that their romance is over.
Is the Song, Diamonds and Rust, About Bob Dylan?
Oh yes. Baez admitted she wrote it after Dylan called from a pay phone to read her some new lyrics he’d written. The song’s melody is sprawling and layered, though her voice and lyrics feel very intimate.
“You burst on the scene already a legend, the unwashed vagabond,” she sings.
She revisits times with him in Washington Square Park. In the song, he tells her he’s not nostalgic, and she says she wishes she remembers him less clearly. The song finishes with her saying she’d already paid for anything he might be offering.
It’s one of the most beautiful kiss-offs you’ll find in folk music.
Can You Still See Bob Dylan and Joan Baez Live?
Certainly not together, though there’s always hope. It’s been decades since they performed together, and Baez now says she’s retired. However, you can still see Dylan live. He’s 80 now, but, being Dylan, he’s still out there on the road.
No Fairytale Ending for Dylan and Baez
The romance between Dylan and Baez captured people’s attention because it was between two phenomenal musicians who are also very politically active.
There aren’t a lot of fairy tales in folk music, and listeners wanted this to be one. So, when their relationship ended, people speculated about what happened. And for over 50 years, we’ve all tried to find references to the other in each singer’s songs.
While we wish Dylan and Baez the best and would never celebrate their heartbreak, it’s given us some good mythology and truly excellent songs.