Joan Baez on Her Next Chapter: ‘I Don’t Make History, I Am History’
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2018-03-23 15:42:22 UTC
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After finding ways to embrace changes in her vocal range, the 77-year-old
folk singer has released an album that she is calling her final recording.

WOODSIDE, Calif. — She’s been performing for six decades and until this month
hadn’t released a new album since 2008, but Joan Baez has been picking up

Taylor Swift brought her onstage, and Lana Del Rey said “Lust for Life,” her
most recent album, had “early Joan Baez influences.” Last year, Ms. Baez was
inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Her 1970 version of the Band’s “The
Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” (her only Top 10 single) was recently featured
in the film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Just as the folk music icon and pioneering activist has unlocked a fresh reserve
of cultural resonance, however, she has decided to step back. She announced that
her new album, “Whistle Down the Wind,” would be her final recording and said
that the eight-month-long world tour that kicked off in Sweden earlier this
month will mark her farewell to the road.

“It’s a big decision, but it feels so right,” she said, seated in the rustic,
sun-drenched kitchen of a house she’s lived in for 50 years here, just a few
minutes’ drive from Stanford University and the epicenter of Silicon Valley.
“People who know me get that it’s time. When my mom [who died in 2013 at age
100] was 95, I said, ‘I think I’m going to quit,’ and she said, ‘Oh, but honey,
what will your fans think?’ About three years later, I said, ‘I think I’m going
to quit,’ and she said, ‘Oh, honey, you’ve done enough.’”

At 77, Ms. Baez certainly doesn’t carry herself as if she has any intention of
slowing down. On a recent afternoon, she interrupted a walk around her backyard
to unlock her chicken coop and chase a dozen birds through the dirt. After
rounding them back up, she was delighted to find a handful of new eggs, which
she carefully carried up to her kitchen. In the house, the furniture was well
worn, but the rooms felt spare and airy, perhaps because she’s “decluttering”
using the Marie Kondo method and is proudly down to three shirts in her closet.

The crystalline purity of Ms. Baez’s soprano rang out from the 1963 March on
Washington to Woodstock six years later, from Live Aid in 1985 to the protests
at the Dakota Access Pipeline less than two years ago. But it was changes in her
vocal range that mostly led to her decision to retire.

“I asked my vocal coach many years ago when it would be time to stop,” she said,
“and he said, ‘Your voice will tell you.’ And it has — it’s a muscle, and you
have to work harder and harder to make it work.”

She started seeing a vocal therapist six years ago, which led to “an easing up,
and finding more pleasure in the singing.” But it also meant coming to terms
with a different sound. “I’ve gotten to like where I am — partly,” she said.
“This is what I got, I don’t have any more than this, so what am I going to do
with it? And that was a big step. It quit all the nostalgic [expletive] about
what I wanted to sound like, and I was willing to give up the high notes because
they weren’t working anyway.”

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2018-03-23 17:11:56 UTC