Beyond praise, Joan Baez: I Am A Noise reveals the artist’s real, frequently tragic tale.

In her 83 years, Joan Baez has accomplished a great deal.


Millions of copies of her hundreds of albums have been sold, but the cultural and artistic influence the folk singer from the 1960s and her work had on the music industry in the decades that followed outweighed their financial success.


Not just in the 1960s but throughout her life, her friendship and respect for Martin Luther King Jr. set the bar for her continued involvement in the civil rights and nonviolent movements.

The new documentary Joan Baez: I Am A Noise, despite title, is not a self-aggrandizing rundown of the folk singer and counterculture icon’s greatest hits. It’s a picture of a woman dealing with complicated issues and the numerous broken relationships that have, in a sense, molded her life.


Baez makes references to recollections of childhood trauma she discovered while undergoing mental therapy in the early 1990s, indicating that the story starts and ends with her treatment as a child. Unfortunately, those recollections affected her connection with her father till his death.


We learn of Joan’s tremendous career, her untimely husband Dick Farina’s death, and her lack of relationship with her sister Mimi, who never accepted the claimed abuse before passing away from cancer in her 50s.


She is candid about her notorious liaison with Bob Dylan, which garnered media attention during that period and, according to Baez, was “demoralizing” upon its termination.


After many years apart, Baez explains why her marriage to fellow anti-war activist and her son David Harris ended in divorce: “He was too young, and I was too crazy.” She also talks about her sexual awakening at the age of 22, which she experienced when she started seeing her friend Kimmie.


The brief statement made by her son Gabriel Harris, who acknowledges needing to make amends with his mother over previous disagreements, is possibly the saddest.


Harris claims, “She was busy saving the world.” “No kid can understand that.”


With letters, drawings, diary pages, and even recordings of previous therapy sessions revealed by Baez to provide context for her experience, there’s nowhere to hide in I Am A Noise.


Baez’s precarious mental state is central to the narrative through this material. It’s evident from her anxiety episodes, empathy for other people’s pain, childhood racism, and years of abuse suppression that she was abused.


Considering that the general public saw Baez as a very successful recording artist and influential countercultural personality, it’s an intriguing approach. Beneath the surface, she battled interminable mental health problems, which in the 1970s led to a terrible quaalude addiction.

Her attachment to celebrity is the other key lesson to be learned from this depiction of Baez. Although it’s never said that way, the singer acknowledges on multiple occasions that she has never experienced what it’s like to turn down praise and admiration.


She talks about how becoming older has roughened her voice and forced her to change the way she sings. She acknowledges that she was “addicted to the activism” after the Vietnam War.


For music lovers, there is still much to do here. It’s well worth the price of admission to watch the footage of a young Baez performing at the Boston coffeehouse Club ’47 in 1958; her flawless voice is so captivating and unique that it’s simple to see why her star soared to prominence so rapidly.


The way she talks about her motherly bond with the teenage singer-songwriter, Baez, makes it clear how much of an influence they had on each other, even though the video of Dylan denying his relationship with Baez is upsetting.


“We changed each other’s lives and outlooks on music and careers” according to her.

There are just as many sad moments as there are wonderful ones when Baez is performing at her peak.


She bemoans the terrible front cover of 1977’s Blowin’ Away and smiles about the success of her outstanding 1975 album Diamonds & Rust, which placed her back on the map and made her a ton of money.


Her reputation was enhanced by her participation in Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in the middle of the 1970s, but judging from the way she stumbles off the bus at one stop, it appears the tour may have done more harm than good.


We witness her perform magnificently for both well-known admirers and those whose lives have been changed by her voice and art, but we also hear her struggle as she warms up for a concert on her last ever series of shows.


A startlingly honest portrayal of the life of an amazing lady may be found in Joan Baez: I Am A Noise. It serves as a warning that something extremely dark frequently lurks beneath the surface of even the most admirable of careers.


DocPlay offers Joan Baez: I Am A Noise for streaming.


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