Song of the Week: “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez
When I was fifteen, my mom and I played and replayed a Joan Baez cassette tape over hundreds of hours of Los Angeles commute time. At least that’s how I remember it. My mom recalls listening to Billie Holiday and the Mamas and the Papas but not to Joan Baez—our competing recollections point to a fundamental instability of memory. Now I have been singing “Diamonds and Rust” in karaoke bars for years, and the associations shift over time. “Well you burst on the scene/ Already a legend/ The unwashed phenomenon/ The original vagabond/ You strayed into my arms,” Baez sings to Bob Dylan, as though she wants to hold the memory on her tongue, however unstable, and stretch it out slowly, hover there long after the romance has died. The memories come tumbling one after another like snapshots—and like snapshots, they carry the weight of the present recalling the past. But to cherish what was does not necessarily mean to want it back. The song averts sentimentality with its final understated assertion: “If you’re offering me diamonds and rust/ I’ve already paid.” Reflection comes at the cost of experience, however fiercely and tenderly claimed.
Lauren Russell is the author of the chapbooks Dream-Clung, Gone (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2012) and The Empty-Handed Messenger (Goodbye Better, 2009). She is an MFA student at the University of Pittsburgh, where she also teaches writing and serves as a poetry editor of Hot Metal Bridge.
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