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She does not like to leave the area for much more than a short concert tour, for her psychiatrist is there and she feels that she must stay near him. He is her fourth "shrink," as she calls analysts, and the best ever. Mercurial, subject to quickly shifting moods, gentle, suspicious, wild and frightened as a deer, worried about the bugs she kills, Joan is anything but the harsh witch that her behavior in the Cambridge coffeehouses would suggest. Sympathetic friends point out that her wicked manner in those days was in large part a cover-up for her small repertory. She could not have honored most requests if she had wanted to. Actually, friends insist, she is honest and sincere to a fault, sensitive, kind and confused. She once worked to near exhaustion at the Perkins School for the Blind near Boston.
Segregation & Sentiment. Like many folk singers, she is earnestly political. She has taken part in peace marches and ban-the-bomb campaigns. Once in Texas she broke off singing in the middle of a concert to tell the audience that even at the risk of embarrassing a few of them, she wanted to say that it made her feel good to see some colored people in the room. "They all clapped and cheered," she says. "I was so surprised and happy."
She is a lovely girl who has always attracted numerous boys, but her wardrobe would not fill a hatbox. She wears almost no jewelry, but she has one material bauble. When a Jaguar auto salesman looked down his nose at the scruffily dressed customer as she peered at a bucket-seat XKE sports model, she sat down, wrote a giant check, and bought it on the spot. Wildly, she dashes across the desert in her Jaguar, as unsecured as a grain of flying sand. "I have no real roots," she says. "Sometimes, when I walk through a suburb with all its tidy houses and lawns, I get a real feeling of nostalgia. I want to live there and hear the screen door slam. And when I'm in New York, it sometimes smells like when I was nine, and I love it. I look back with great nostalgia on every place I've ever lived. I'm a sentimental kind of a goof."
A Singing Map. With that much capacity for nostalgia, it is a paradoxical wonder that she is not more interested in folk history. "I don't care very much
about where a song came from or why
or even what it says. All I care about is how it sounds and the feeling in it." True, it is of only academic interest that a song called In the Bright Mohawk Valley migrated west from stream to stream, new title to new title, until it settled down in the Red River Valley as a Western woman's torch song for her cowboy-errant. Similarly, a British ballad called The Unfortunate Rake, about a soldier dying of syphilis, went through several mutations before it traveled to Texas and became the national anthem of the trackless range, The Streets of Laredo.
But more significantly, as Anthologist Alan Lomax says in the opening line of his Folk Songs of North America, "the map sings." Anyone who takes the time to seek out the anthologies or listen to some of the field-taped recordings sold by the Library of Congress' Archive of American Folk