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.”
Interviews have been edited and condensed.
Hair and makeup: Julie Morgan