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Baez says Earle carries torch of change via song

Brian T. Atkinson
Political activism is still paramount to Joan Baez, who is among musicians boycotting Arizona over its new immigration law.

Joan Baez's "Day After Tomorrow" effortlessly unites hopeful hymnals ("God Is God") with stark storytelling ("Jericho Road"). The longtime social activist credits kindred spirit and producer Steve Earle with thrusting the punch behind its multilayered vision.

"Who aside from Steve and a few others are writing songs well enough to move people toward social change?" Baez says. Most other songwriters "haven't hit the mainstream in a way that would move mountains." The 69-year-old performs Friday at Stubb's.

American-Statesman: Did Steve specifically write 'God Is God' for you?

Joan Baez: To my shock and delight, he had written it for me. It was very flattering.

What's the song's central message?

I asked him, because it was kind of confusing to me. He said, "That's recovery speech." I think he's quoting something from the 12-step program. Steve's been through a lot (with drug addiction). The idea is something being greater than ourselves. I've been interpreting songs wrong all my life, but that's what he told me.

As an interpreter, what do you require in a song?

I'm not sure what it means about what I choose except that — it sounds corny — it does seem the song chooses me. All through my entire career I've wondered what it is. Some are obvious like "Day After Tomorrow," because it has all the qualifications. It's universal. It's about a soldier, but that means it's about any soldier in any war. It's compelling musically, and it tells a story in a new and different way.

Steve joined 'The Sound Strike' (an organization of musicians boycotting Arizona due to its Senate Bill 1070 immigration law)...

Yeah, so did I. I hadn't canceled any (concerts), because we only had the outline of my tour. We hadn't signed any contracts. Of course, I boycotted it.

What about the potential negative economic impact of not performing in Arizona?

Yeah, that's always a dilemma. There are always two sides, but it's such an enormous problem. Someone has to stick a cog in the wheel. It's running away. I think there are six other states right now that want to do the same thing. It's mind-boggling to people like me. I remember boycotting apartheid for, what, 20 years? I would feel so uncomfortable going into that state and doing anything that would bring more revenue.

You supported the Obama campaign. Are you satisfied with his administration?

No. If he's been given the Nobel Peace Prize, which he knows is premature and kind of silly, my request would be that he meets with Nobel Peace Prize-winners once a month. He gets up in the morning and meets with military. That's his orientation. Nobel Peace Prize winners have made changes in the world. They're not just people who have prayed a lot; they're people who have brought down and made governments. I would think that particularly in a situation like Afghanistan, he would heed something that wasn't the old hackneyed way of dealing with wars and sovereignty, but he's not. He's following directly in the footsteps of Bush.

What do you believe is his greatest asset?

Well, he's a statesman, whether or not I agree with the things he's doing. He has enormous intelligence. I thought that he had a real vision, and I'm not sure what that vision is (now). I was so impressed with his speaking; it was and is so like Dr. King. There are extraordinary things about this man that I don't want to give up on.


Joan Baez with James McMurtry

8 p.m. Friday, Stubb's, 801 Red River St., $25-$28, 888-512-7469, stubbs