The publicity machine was working overtime this week for "A Freewheelin' Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties," the new memoir by Suze Rotolo, the young girl featured on the cover of the 1963 album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
In several interviews, Rotolo mentioned or was asked about the woman who succeeded her in Dylan's affections, Joan Baez, and that reminded me of Diamonds & Rust, one of the fiercest and most unsentimental, and yet hauntingly beautiful, songs ever written or sung about the aftermath of a big love that is never really extinguished despite every attempt to do so. At a certain point in my life, these words so closely mirrored my own emotions it was frightening.
One of our generation's most steadfast campaigners for human rights and social justice, Baez gained fame as a folk singer with a three-octave range who largely interpreted others' work, but this was a stunning exception. I don't think there's any doubt that the song is about Dylan, with whom she had a symbiotic on-again, off-again relationship in the early 60s.
When they met in Greenwich Village, her career was already a few steps ahead of his. At the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, Baez famously invited Dylan to take the stage with her, and they sang With God On Our Side, the first of many duets they would perform until their paths diverged as had happened with Rotolo at an earlier stage. There's some interesting discussion about all of this in Martin Scorcese's Dylan documentary, No Direction Home. I can't recommend it highly enough.
I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that the Diamonds & Rust LP was the source of my discovery of John Prine, whose devastatingly sad Hello In There Joan covered for the album. Her version is not on YouTube but his is, so voilà - it's only right that this be your introduction to it anyway, despite the loveliness of Baez' version.