A Few Notes on a "Diamonds and Rust"

"Diamonds and Rust", a 1975 song from Joan Baez, is about  her relationship in the mid 1960s with Bob Dylan.  Baez wrote the song after Bob had called her from a phone booth and read her the lyrics to "Lilly, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts" sometime in the mid 1970s. "Diamonds and Rust" in itself is a great song, as Baez picks some minor chords and sings with her soaring voice. There's something about the this tune, although it is very personal to Baez, that evokes the listener's own nostalgia and invites the images of one's own mind to fill the tapestry of the song. In that way, it's as cinematic as they come. One image in this cinema that always stuck with me, as Baez sings "Now I see you standing/ brown leaving are falling all around/ and snow in your hair". Bob Dylan later goes on to reference these lines twice in his future writing. Clearly, the song had an effect on him.

In fact, Baez recalls Bob asking her to sing the song, which he calls a song “about robin eggs and diamonds”. This dialogue, between Bob and Joan, is pulled from her memoir And a voice to Sing With (accessible on Wikipedia):

"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 do I know?"
"Never mind. Yeah, I'll sing it, if you like."

Recently, I was listening through the excellent Tell Tale Signs, a “bootleg” release that details alternate takes and forgotten tracks from 1997-2006. The songs actually sequence well together, almost as if this were a true album, and if it was, it’d be one of the best. In a song in which some of the lyrics would later be recycled into “High Water (for Charlie Patton)”, Bob sings in “Marchin’ to the City” that “snowflakes are falling around my head/ Lord have mercy it feel heavy like lead/ I’ve been hit too hard/ I’ve seen too much/ Nothing can heal me but your touch”. In another tune, the excellent dark blues jaunt “Tell Ol’ Bill”, Bob sings “snowflakes are falling in my hair/ beneath the gray and gloomy sky”.

No song of Bob’s had snow falling in his hair before 1975, so it is interesting that he’s had some snow falling on his head a few times since. Bob is from Minnesota, so snow has filled plenty of his songs, just never have they landed in his hair until an old love was lurking around the corner.

If anything, it is a sheer delight to see how two great musicians have inspired each other's art and created a nearly endless well of music to enjoy, music that elevates the everyday and amplifies every feeling, whether snow, rain, sleet or hail might be falling on your head.


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