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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Volcanic Ash
As old as you ought to be

By David Shapiro

My 5-year-old grandson Corwin asked me, "How come you don't have a hat?"

"I don't know," I said. "Why do you ask?"

"Because old mens are supposed to wear hats," he said.

"Hey, I'm not that old," I protested.

"Well," he said, "you don't have hair, either."

Age is usually not a big issue with me. I've always figured that I'm as old as I'm supposed to be, taking into account the number of years I've been alive, and there's no point in wishing to recover time already spent.

But that day I was a bit melancholy about advancing age after hearing that Mimi Farina, sister of folk music icon Joan Baez and a fine singer in her own right, had died of cancer. She was 56, a few years older than I.

The Baez sisters marked the fondest times of my youth. The first time I heard Joan sing was an inspiration. The purity of her voice as she moved so incredibly from low registers to some of the highest notes in the human range opened me to the potential for beauty in this world. From that moment, Elizabethan ballads and songs of social justice forever replaced rock 'n' roll as my passion.

Mimi made her own name with a driving folk sound she performed with her husband, Richard Farina, until he died in a motorcycle accident in 1966. The three of them, along with friend Bob Dylan, provided much of the early energy of the emerging counterculture.

Back then, I was a penniless teenager in Hilo desperate to find a way to Honolulu for a Joan Baez concert — an event made even more alluring by a rumor that Mimi would be with her.

A friend and I were so determined that we staked out Hilo Airport all night to assess our chances of stowing away on the predawn Aloha Airlines flight that brought in the Love's bread. We never made it to the concert.

When I read that Mimi Farina died, I dug out a record she made with her husband more than 35 years ago. The photo on the cover showed a curly haired man and a pretty young woman with radiant eyes fixed optimistically on a future that wouldn't extend nearly far enough for either of them.

I was disappointed that I didn't have a working turntable to play the record on. I settled for putting a Joan Baez CD on the stereo — an old collection of her traditional folk songs that left me as exhilarated as the first time I heard them.

Then I found a more recent CD by a fiftysomething Baez that I had never gotten around to playing. I was uneasy as I put it on the stereo. I didn't know if I could bear it if her voice sounded old and tired.

I needn't have worried. She couldn't get all the high notes she used to soar to, but in the lower ranges her voice was as rich as ever. "Splendid," as she put it after finishing a rousing a cappella performance of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

Which brought me back to where I started: However old you are is exactly how old you ought to be and that's just fine.

Maybe I'll ask Corwin to buy me a hat for my birthday — one of those big floppy things like the hippies used to wear.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net