In this year’s Culture issue, New York Times Style Magazine asked mid- and late-career artists and other creatives (the majority of them over 45) to identify a younger female artist who inspires them. It didn’t have to be someone they knew, or even someone in the same field or discipline, but it had to be someone they saw their younger selves in or who gave them a sense of hope. They were brought together, some their first meeting, for some photos and an interview about their relationships with ambition, legacy and mentorship. Legendary American folk singer-songwriter and activists Joan Baez chose Lana Del Rey.
The interview, which can be read below and also online here, is titled “Lana Del Rey Wanted to Sing With Joan Baez. But First, She’d Have to Find Her.” The singers talked about the audition that changed them both — and the “secret to real success.” The print edition will be available on Sunday, April 23.
Joan Baez: In 2019, Lana, whom I’d heard about from my granddaughter, Jasmine, invited me to sing with her in Berkeley. I said, “Why? Your audience could be my great-grandchildren.” And she said, “They don’t deserve you.”
Lana and I are sort of opposites. When I was starting out, I wouldn’t let anyone else onstage. I had two microphones — one for me, one for my guitar — and I stood barefoot, singing sad folk songs. I didn’t even write for the first 10 years, and she’s a songwriter.
I stopped singing three years ago; it was time to move on. After 60 years as a musician, I started painting. An artist friend said I need to loosen up and make mistakes so, if a painting isn’t working out, I dunk it twice in the swimming pool to see if it becomes something interesting. A hose will also do.
If people want to learn from me, I tell them to look beyond the music to my engagement with human and civil rights. My voice was what it was, but the real gift was using it. A documentary has just been made about me [“Joan Baez I Am a Noise,” 2023]. There’s footage of me marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Grenada, Miss., in 1966. At another point in the film, I mention in a letter to my parents that I want to save the world. Lana doesn’t make such grand political statements — at Berkeley, she brought me out to do it for her. And yet, amid the colorful chaos and glitter of her show, she was at one point, I believe, barefoot.
Lana Del Rey: I was having a show at Berkeley three years ago and wanted Joan to sing “Diamonds & Rust” (1975) with me. She told me she lived an hour south of San Francisco, and that if I could not only find her but also sing the song’s high harmonies on the spot, she’d do it. I was given a vague map to get to a house distinguishable only by its color and the chickens running in the yard. At one point during my audition, she stopped me with a steely look to let me know I didn’t get it right. By the end, she said, “OK, that’s good. I’ll sing with you.”
Midway through the performance, I said to the audience, “I have someone coming onstage who is the most generous-of-spirit singer I know, and the most important female singer of the ’60s and ’70s, and we’re gonna do ‘Diamonds & Rust’ together.” After the show, we went to an Afro-Caribbean two-step club, and she told me not to stop dancing until she did. That’s what my song “Dance Till We Die” (2021) is about.
I think the secret to real success is to make sure you’re always emotionally intact. I learned that from Joan. I recently said to her, “I just want you to know that I’m keenly aware that, in this lifetime or any other, I have no right to be standing shoulder to shoulder with you.” And she replied, “Oh, shut up.”