About 3 years ago Tinkerbell first introduced me to the works of Joan Baez, and soon ‘Diamonds and Rust’ by Baez made its way to my ‘Top 25 played songs’ in iPod/iTunes. In the song, written and performed in 1975, Baez recounts an out-of-the-blue phone call from an old lover, which sends her a decade back in time. If I try to summarize the song in one sentence, it will be - “memories bring ‘diamonds and rust’”, i.e. time turns dirty charcoal into beautiful diamonds and shiny metal into ugly rust.
MR: “Diamonds And Rust” was another magic moment. You’ve said when you began writing the song, it started as something else until Dylan phoned you. Then it became about him. That must have been one helluva call.
JB: He read me the entire lyrics to “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts” that he’d just finished from a phone booth in the Midwest.
MR: What was the song about originally?
JB: I don’t remember what I’d been writing about, but it had nothing to do with what it ended up as.
But in Baez’s memoir, And a Voice to Sing With, she recounted how she told Dylan that the song was actually about her husband David Harris.
The following excerpt shows Baez’s rendition of this conversation between her and Dylan:
“You gonna sing that song about robin’s eggs and diamonds?” Bob had asked me on the first day of rehearsals.
“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 the f*** do I know?”
“Never mind. Yeah, I’ll sing it, if you like.”
Here goes the lyrics of “Diamonds And Rust”
I’ll be damned
Here comes your ghost again
But that’s not unusual
It’s just that the moon is full
And you happened to call
And here I sit
Hand on the telephone
Hearing a voice I’d known
A couple of light years ago
Heading straight for a fall
As I remember your eyes
Were bluer than robin’s eggs
My poetry was lousy you said
Where are you calling from?
A booth in the midwest
Ten years ago
I bought you some cufflinks
You brought me something
We both know what memories can bring
They bring diamonds and rust
Well you burst on the scene
Already a legend
The unwashed phenomenon
The original vagabond
You strayed into my arms
And there you stayed
Temporarily lost at sea
The Madonna was yours for free
Yes the girl on the half-shell
Would keep you unharmed
Now I see you standing
With brown leaves falling around
And snow in your hair
Now you’re smiling out the window
Of that crummy hotel
Over Washington Square
Our breath comes out white clouds
Mingles and hangs in the air
Speaking strictly for me
We both could have died then and there
Now you’re telling me
You’re not nostalgic
Then give me another word for it
You who are so good with words
And at keeping things vague
Because I need some of that vagueness now
It’s all come back too clearly
Yes I loved you dearly
And if you’re offering me diamonds and rust
I’ve already paid