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AP Interview: Joan Baez returns to past in Vietnam

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 10, 2013 at 8:27 pm •  Published: April 10, 2013
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Baez had always shunned party politics, but in 2008 made an exception for Barack Obama. One year into his second term as U.S. president, she now says she is unlikely to do so again. "In some ways I'm disappointed, but in some ways it was silly to expect more," she said. "If he had taken his brilliance, his eloquence, his toughness and not run for office he could have led a movement. Once he got in the Oval Office he couldn't do anything."

To a question on the limits of her pacifism — or as she says "the what-if-someone-is-going-to-shoot-your-grandma" scenario — she replies:

"Anybody who says they would never do this in any situation would probably have to check themselves, but for the way I lived my life and the way I plan to live my life does not include violence," she said. "The longer you practice nonviolence and the meditative qualities of it that you will need, the more likely you are to do something intelligent in any situation."

She said America should have not responded with violence after the 9/11 attacks.

"People say if 'we have tried everything' but they haven't really tried anything, because they really want to clobber (something)," she said. "It is what we know, it is what is familiar — revenge and that stuff."

Baez still tours the globe, but is now slowing down — just two monthlong tours this year compared to her previous three.

But it's painting now that really fires her. She has been at it for just eight months. The acrylic in the hotel in Hanoi of a young Vietnamese boy against an orange background is her first work that has ever been framed.

"I have literally switched my interest in music to painting, which is convenient because it's been 53 years and it's not that easy to sing now," she said. "People wouldn't know it, but the voice goes down and there is huge pressure to keep it up and it means a lot more vocalizing and a lot more concentration. I'm really ready to move on."

Baez got in contact with the hotel after seeing media reports of the bunker being unearthed. She gave friends of hers visiting Hanoi in December a signed copy of "Where Are You Now, My Son?" with the instructions they should give it to the hotel management if "they are the right people" and, if they weren't, to bring it home again.

They handed it over to Metropole general manger Kai Speth, who led the hunt for the shelter and is proud of the hotel's history. He gave Baez's friends a book about the hotel with a note to Baez saying he would love to welcome her back. In February, she emailed saying she would like to come. Less than two months later she was walking through the door.

"I don't believe in coincidences," said Baez. "Something in me was ready to come back and apparently hadn't been up until now."

On the Saturday before her flight left, Baez shared tales of life of Hanoi under American attack and the hotel's history with former staff, including its hairdresser and general manager. Many of them were on double duty: digging graves for the victims of the bombing as well as serving the hotel guests.

The ex-general manager gave her an embroidered bag, which she said she would use to carry the soaps she planned to steal from the hotel. Housekeeper Tieu Phuong said she remembered Baez staying at the hotel. She also remembered seeing some American pilots, who were released from Hanoi jail at the end of the war, staying at the hotel before flying home and thinking "they looked so nice, how could they bomb our country?"

Under the hazy spring sun, Baez took her hand and tried to explain: "It's so true; they were just kids, they were just following orders."

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Follow Chris Brummitt on Twitter at twitter.com/cjbrummitt