Few couples or artists made such a charming, intelligent and talented pair as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. The two started to date in 1965, when both were 24 years old. At the time, Dylan and his girl were prince and princess of American folk music (although Dylan was already reinventing himself as a rocker), voices that lulled millions of young people around the whole world. Him: brilliant, impetuous and challenging, the poet of a generation – even though he refused that title. Her: beautiful, charismatic, political, the owner of an enchanting soprano voice.
The images of Joan singing while Dylan hammered crazily on a typewriter, gushing his poetry onto the paper, recorded by the documentary Don’t Look Back, show how much the two were immersed in music and in creation at that moment. They seemed like twin souls affirming the 60’s project of living for love and art. But what seemed to be the start of a long story turned out to be quite a short one. The romance would last a little less than a year. A lot of ego, maybe too much genius to fit in one bed. Ten years later, Joan wrote one of her most beautiful songs, Diamonds and Rust, for Dylan.
In the beginning, there were controversies. In her biography se describes the dialogue in which an incredulous Dylan heard her say that, despite the rumors, the song wasn’t for him. However, in an interview for the The Huffington Post, in October of last year, Baez finally turned herself in, admitting the song was written after a call from her ex-boyfriend.
Dylan was in a phone booth in the middle of the street and called to read some lyrics that he had just finished writing. It wasn’t a coincidence that the first verses of Diamond and Rust say “(..) Here comes your ghost again/ But that’s not unusual/ It’s just that the moon is full/ And you happened to call”. Baez describes memories that evoke two opposite images at the same time: diamonds and rust – the shine of the precious stone and the worn stains of the oxidized metal.
The caring tone she adopts is an exception. When musician couples air their dirty laundry in public, generally, shrapnel is left on all sides. And the comebacks usually sting even more.
In 2006, the Uruguayan composer Jorge Drexter released the beautiful album 12 segundos de oscuridad (12 Seconds of Darkness). The work was born while the singer was divorcing the Spanish singer Ana Laan, with whom he had one son. The CD 12 Segundos is the densest and, in the opinion of many fans, the best of the singer’s career. To conceive it, Drexler isolated himself in Cabo Polonio, a Uruguayan beach, without a telephone, internet or even electricity.
The name of the album refers to the time that the lighthouse of Cabo Polonio blinks until it returns to flash, emitting its brilliant light that guides the ships that sail into the night. In the song title, Drexler uses this metaphor to affirm that what matters in the darkness is that one can arrive to a better place: a positive conception of crisis as a necessary phase for learning.
Speckled throughout the songs of the album, we can find reports that describe how the marriage collapsed. One of the most revealing lyrics is the one from La Infidelidad en la era informatics (Infidelity in the computing era), in which Drexler seems to confess to a betrayal, discovered by Ana Laan while snooping through the her husband’s email inbox: “And in three weeks that seem like a year/ He lost the will to sleep and five kilos/ And in flashbacks of jealousy still keep coming/ the phrases that I should never have read”.
Ana would pay him back in the song Me encharas de menos (You‘re Gonna Miss Me,) of 2008, in which she dispenses with and publicly shuns her old pair. A light and dancing song, with lyrics that are so unerringly hateful that they end up being cruel. What did Drexler do to deserve verses like “You won’t try my food anymore/ All of this is over/ Find another sufferer/ Find yourself another love”?
Cheesy pop also has its marital disputes. How could I not cite the controversy involving the singer Latino and his ex-girlfriend, the blonde Kelly Key (anyone remember her? Well, it would be better to forget both). The separation yielded musical gems such as the prestigious verses: “Come here, now that I am ordering you to/ Come my puppy, your owner is calling you”. But not only the loving relationships generate resentful songs. The composers that cultivated the most fruitful artistic marriage of the past century, also exchanged hurtful stabs after their separation.
Everything started when Paul, displeased with some declarations given by John, wrote the song Too Many People, which opened the excellent Ram CD. In the lyrics, Paul complained that too many people in this world were preaching and telling others how they should be. Coded messages in the lyrics were discreetly aimed for Lennon, and only his closest friends could understand the message. Too Many People made Lennon furious.
His response came with the lyrics in How do You Sleep? Hitting his new rival hard, John said to Paul that “those freaks were right when they said that you were dead”. The verse refers to the famous legend that the bassist of the Beatles had died many years earlier in an accident, being substituted by a look-alike.
How do You Sleep has George Harrison on slide guitar – a sign that Paul’s ex-coleagues weren‘t too happy with him. George had already attacked Macca in the lyrics of Wah-Wah, composed during the troubled recording sessions of the CD Let it Be. Intrigues aside, the most fascinating part is that, years later, John declared that at some point he noticed that in the furious lyrics of How do You Sleep? he talked more about himself than about Paul. Long live self-criticism.
Dirty laundry should be washed at home, as our grandparents used to tell us. But we can make an exception when this laundry is made of beautiful clothing. If it wasn’t for the pain, anger, unrest and health that their composers achieved in full, certainly, we would have lost a good part of the most beautiful songs that we’ve ever heard.