When Joan Baez defied the IRS
In 1964, the folksinger began her 10 year anti-war tax protest
When T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, he wasn’t talking about tax season. But ever since 1913, when the U.S. income tax was established, citizens have been filing returns that have not pleased the IRS. In the early ’60s especially, antiwar activists sometimes refused to pay all of their taxes, and the most public pro-tester of all was folksinger Joan Baez.
In mid-April 1964, Baez wrote to the feds saying that she refused to pay 60 percent of her taxes — the portion of the federal budget that was going to the Defense Department. ”Weapons and wars have murdered, burned, distorted, crippled, and caused endless varieties of pain to men, women, and children for too long,” she declared. Her action shouldn’t have come as a surprise: A bit earlier she had refused to sing ”The Star-Spangled Ban-ner” at a White House appearance and instead sang her then lover Bob Dylan’s ”The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
The times may have been a-changing, but the IRS was not. It responded to the 23-year-old Quaker’s protest by slapping a $50,000-plus lien on her Monterey, Calif., house. And, unlike the military, which let some draft resisters claim the status of conscientious objector, the IRS offered no such option for tax protesters. ”If there were a good-faith belief that exempted you from paying taxes, we’d have 100 million converts,” says IRS spokes-man Don Roberts.
For the next 10 years, Baez refused to pay a portion of her taxes. ”Sometimes a representative from the IRS would appear at my concert venue and take cash from the register before it even reached the promoter,” she wrote in her autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With. ”I was accused of being impractical, because, of course, the government got my money plus fines.” Asked today if she would do it again, Baez declined to comment. But her spokeswoman assured Entertainment Weekly that Baez does pay her taxes — just like the rest of us.
TIME CAPSULE: April 15, 1964
Americans were remembering President Kennedy as the assassination picture book Four Days led the nonfiction best-seller list. The Beatles’ ”Can’t Buy Me Love” topped the pop charts. From Russia, With Love had just opened at the movies, and TV viewers made The Beverly Hillbillies the tube’s top show.