By Jon Bream
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Folk-music legend Joan Baez talks about her new album, activism and, of course, the state of the nation.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Joan Baez sounded sunny and upbeat, two words not usually associated with her.
Maybe it’s because the folk-music queen and godmother of social activism was phoning from Boston, where she started her career.
Maybe it’s because she’s proud of her just released studio album, “Whistle Down the Wind.”
Maybe it’s because she’s encouraged by the activism of Parkland High School students.
Maybe it’s because the 77-year-old is traveling the country on her farewell tour, due Saturday, Oct. 6, at the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.
Baez even had nice things to say about Bob Dylan, something she hasn’t done for years.
“I was lucky to have been around when he was writing and to have been able to sing what he was writing,” she said.
“In that period, in those 10 years, he was the best we had to put in our arsenals of music and social consciousness and protests.”
In a breezy chat, Baez talked about her album, activism and, of course, the state of the nation.
Q: How is your farewell tour going?
A: Stunningly. People should quit more often. There’s just more excitement and more response, and as a result I’m probably performing better.
Q: If people quit more often, they become Cher.
A: You just have to do it tactfully.
Q: Why did you decide it was time to do a farewell tour?
A: A lot of reasons. The first one being the voice. The performance right now is also very difficult to keep up. I would rather go out when it’s really good. The long tours, I forget my age and probably should be a little kinder to my body. I’ll miss it. I specifically love this tour family. I’ll probably miss that more than anything. I’m stopping the big tours, but I’ve left it open to do one-offs or things with other people.
Q: A change in his voice never stopped Bob Dylan from touring. He’s a road warrior.
A: Well, he doesn’t have to worry about singing. (Then she laughed.) It’s just being him.
Q: Was it a relief when you decided to do the farewell tour?
A: Absolutely. By the way, we’ve extended this tour ridiculously long. I’d rather quit right than just quit. For instance, I suddenly realized we toured the states but not the places that were so meaningful to me during the civil rights years. So we added Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas.
Q: At the time you’re retiring from the road, it feels like the country needs you now as much as ever.
A: Yeah. I feel funny about that. I think I can have a presence without having formal touring. There are places I will go that make sense to me and where I hope I can be helpful.
Q: Who do you pass the torch to?
A: I don’t really know. When I look at the Parkland High School kids who’ve really created the closest thing to the movement we’ve had for decades, they’re newbies, but they have the courage and the brains and intelligent tactics. I think a lot of it will come out of that. But the anthem they need hasn’t come yet.
As far as passing the torch of who I am, that’s not possible given the combination of things I am. The torch as far as political awareness and willingness to take action, there are lots of people.
Q: Do you have conversations with those kinds of people that we’re not aware of?
A: A few. I talked to Josh Ritter, who wrote for me the closest thing to an anthem that I’ve heard in a long time. He has to work out the words. I’d turn it over to a young group. It’s called “I Carried the Flame.” Maybe they don’t want one. Maybe they just want to do rap. Maybe they don’t need what I think they need.
Q: There are some powerful songs on your new album such as “The President Sang Amazing Grace” about Barack Obama at the service for the Charleston church shooting victims.
A: Those are absolutely powerful. The “President” song and “Another World” take the album to a different level. I love that album.
Q: The album is a reflection of the kind of material you’ve done over the years. You’ve called it a bookend to your first album from 1960. What do you mean by that?
A: For instance, I’d asked Josh Ritter to write me a folk song and “The Silver Blade” is what came out; that’s a bookend to “Silver Dagger” (from her debut). In general, there are so many likenesses of ballads and politically conscious songs and the simplicity. I see this album and the first album and all that’s in between.
Q: Besides the Parkand High School students, what else gives you hope right now?
A: People like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. People that hang on like bulldogs. Their sense of dignity and decency. People like myself need to double up on our empathy and compassion and intelligence and willingness to take risks because there isn’t any empathy on the other side. Zero. They don’t have to feel for anybody, particularly people who don’t have any money or are the wrong color or are too old or are gay. They do not exist for this administration. Even if the ending is hopeful, to remain decent during these times can really be a challenge. I suggest that we accept this challenge.
Q: Will you show up at rallies and protests?
A: Of course. Last year I didn’t sing any concerts and I showed up more publicly for political events than I had in a long time.
Q: People here in the Upper Midwest remember you showing up at the Dakota pipeline protest a couple of years ago.
A: Oh, yeah. That’s where my heart goes. I’d go whether I sing or not.
Q: You are forever tied to Bob Dylan. How do you feel about that?
A: Recently, I was doing some painting and I was painting Bob and listening to his music and any resentment or anything negative vanished. It was old (BS) left over from many, many years ago. It’s not there anymore. Right now I’m just grateful for having dropped the BS.
Q: What was it like when he read the lyrics of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” over the phone to you that you allude to in your song “Diamonds and Rust”?
A: I didn’t really understand it because there were so many details. It was very flattering that he would call up and read me what he’d just done. And it was so gorgeous, and I ended up singing it (soon thereafter in her concerts).
Q: What did your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017 mean to you?
A: Part of it was, “What is she doing here?” On the other hand it was, “It’s about time.” I accept, in a slightly serious way, that I was a conduit between the folk boom and rock ‘n’ roll. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and many, many rock artists said how important I was when they were starting.
Q: How do you want the world to remember Joan Baez?
A: I’m not sure how to answer that. I think maybe the most practical. Maybe being remembered for being a good mom.