Nimble fingers pick gently at the strings of an acoustic guitar. Dark hair tumbles around her face. Her features and her music speak of Spanish ancestors as she gazes into the pale yellow light of a rising moon.
A little while ago the phone had rung and the voice on the line stirred memories from years ago. Precious memories of happy days. And, here, sitting in quiet contemplation, she reflects on the times that have gone by and the simple joys that are now irretrievably lost.
She begins to sing. Her voice is rich, smooth and intoxicating, like the very finest of burgundy wines.
Well I’ll be damned,
Here comes your ghost again …
That first half-sentence plunges us into the aching heart of the singer, a heart still hung over from drinking too deeply of a delicious youthful love. An almost imperceptible backing track fills out the sound of the guitar, but the voice is so mesmerising that we hardly notice.
As I remember your eyes
Were bluer than robin’s eggs …
Between the verses there is a woodwind refrain, far off, almost subliminal, weaving forward through time to remind us of those long past rapturous moments. Then the singer recalls something she said today on the phone.
We both know what memories can bring,
They bring diamonds and rust.
With her fingers still plucking notes from the air, she remembers a winter’s day, snow in her lover’s hair, and the euphoric feeling of a perfect moment.
Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there.
Although the old love has rusted and crumbled away the memory remains a jewel stowed away in an old treasure chest. She brings it out once in a while for old times sake, for it’s far too precious to throw away.
Diamonds and Rust is one of the best loved songs by Joan Baez. It was recorded in 1975 and it tells of the relationship she had with Bob Dylan some ten years earlier. Dylan is not mentioned by name but the song says of him, “… you burst on the scene, already a legend. The unwashed phenomenon, the original vagabond”. Who else could it be?
In her autobiographical memoir, And a Voice to Sing With, Joan Baez writes, “I was born gifted”. She is referring to her extraordinarily beautiful singing voice with which she was giving public performances from the age of 13. It is that voice that makes Diamonds and Rust such an exceptionally haunting song. But there’s much more to it than that. It is a poetic and highly personal memorial to a cherished period in Joan Baez’ life and a composition of great elegance and charm. As a piece for a folk singer and a guitar it works beautifully but the production on the album version is superb. Subtle strings and woodwind, mellow electric guitars and bubbling synthesiser sounds all sneak into the mix so imperceptibly that they could easily go unnoticed. And yet each additional instrument adds a little more sparkle, another facet to the cut and polished diamond that is this jewel of a song. This one will never rust away.