Joan Baez on overcoming trauma, her realization of Bob Dylan, and being a member of the “no facelift” club

The legendary folk singer-songwriter Joan Baez has performed at airports in Nashville, given a speech at the UN in Geneva, and published a book of drawings in the past ten months. She has also performed “We Shall Overcome” alongside state representative Justin Jones, one of the so-called Tennessee Three. And those are only a few of the 82-year-old’s latest actions.

 

About a year after Baez, at just 17 years old, started playing at folk music venues in Boston and Cambridge, her career took off during the 1959 Newport Folk Festival. She was a star by 1961.

Both the traditional song album “Joan Baez, Vol. 2” and the first two live albums “Joan Baez in Concert” sold hundreds of thousands of copies. In the midst of her prominent role in the American folk music renaissance, she introduced the world to a young Bob Dylan by asking him to open her concerts. She had met him in 1961. Their love and artistic collaboration came to an end in 1965, but Baez preserved their bond in her 1975 song “Diamonds & Rust.”

Devoted to activism, Baez participated in marches with Martin Luther King Jr. and was well-known for her rendition of “We Shall Overcome” during the 1963 March on Washington. She has also advocated for the LGBTQ community and spoken out against the Vietnam War, the death penalty, the Iraq War, and environmental degradation.

“I Am a Noise,” a brand-new documentary about Baez, will be shown on Friday and Saturday at West L.A.’s Landmark Nuart Theatre. Baez will be interviewed by pop artist Lana Del Rey following the Friday performance. From her Woodside, California home, Baez spoke on a Zoom chat about the new movie, her wish to appear modern, and the reason she never got a facelift.

You discuss touchy subjects in the movie, such as abuse, trauma, and aging. How did you find the process to be?

There were moments when I asked myself, “Really? I need to discuss that. However, this is supposed to be honest, I would assume. My legacy is this. Currently, every time I see the movie, I learn more about myself than I previously realized. It has been an intense journey. And I’m thrilled with the outcome. All the wrinkles and all. It’s truthful.

 

By “seeing things that you didn’t know,” what do you mean?

I had never had a storage unit of my own. I had never been in it before the moment they recorded me entering. That wasn’t an action.

 

It contained materials you had never seen before, right?

I hadn’t seen the therapist for decades, so I hadn’t seen the old tapes. I’m currently attempting to decide how to handle them. I’m sure I’ll have a fantastic campfire [laughs]. My mother also retained everything. I vaguely recall performing all those old recordings [back in my childhood], but I had no idea they were still in existence. My father always took Super 8.

 

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