Lana Del Rey Covers Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” Addresses Ann Powers Beef In New Interview

Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Lana Del Rey Covers Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” Addresses Ann Powers Beef In New Interview

Andrew Chin/Getty Images

Lana Del Rey recently released Norman Fucking Rockwell!, quite possibly the best album of 2019 thus far, and she is now a few dates into her short tour behind the LP. Other than an opening show on Long Island, all of the shows on the Norman Fucking Rockwell! tour are on the West Coast. And at most of the shows, Del Rey has paid tribute to some of the great singer-songwriters of generations past.

Del Rey is, of course, performing her hit cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” at all these shows. But she’s doing a few other covers, too. At Del Rey’s Seattle show last night, she gave her own recent song “Cinnamon Girl” — not a Neil Young cover — its live debut. And toward the end of the song, she turned it into a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” a song she’s covered before. Also, at her Seattle show and at the Vancouver show that came before that, Del Rey has covered Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.”

“For Free” originally appeared on Mitchell’s 1970 album Ladies Of The Canyon, where it appeared as a stark voice-and-piano song. Mitchell’s song is a story about going “shopping for jewels” in her limousine and being moved by a street musician who is “playing real good for free.” Del Rey sang it over nothing but piano, and she sounded great. Here’s a video from last night’s Seattle show:

And here’s another video from the Vancouver show a few nights ago:

There might be more covers to come. In a new LA Times feature, Del Rey sits down with the writer Molly Lambert. Del Rey will perform at the Hollywood Bowl next week, and as you might imagine, she wants to make that one perfect. She’s considering a cover of the Eagles’ “Hotel California”: “It’d be so fun to do ‘Hotel California.’ It’s really hard to sing, though. You think you know it, and then seven minutes in, you’re like, ‘Oh, Jesus!’… I wanted Don Henley to be a guest at the Bowl show, but I think he’s in Texas. Also, it’s Don Henley.”

She’s also thinking about the idea of releasing an album of nothing but covers, and she’s even got a title in mind:

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’ve been coordinating this concept covers album called Pacific Blue. It would be a very low-key thing, like acoustic Beach Boys stuff, Elvis, Chris Isaak. People usually think your career is over when you record a covers album or a Christmas album. But my musician friends and I are always playing covers. We could probably do that album in a week.

But there’s another part of that interview that might be more interesting. When Norman Fucking Rockwell! came out, the legendary music critic Ann Powers wrote a largely positive review for NPR, and Del Rey took exception to some of it. Responding directly to Powers on Twitter, Del Rey wrote this:

Here’s a little sidenote on your piece – I don’t even relate to one observation you made about the music. There’s nothing uncooked about me. To write about me is nothing like it is to be with me. Never had a persona. Never needed one. Never will… So don’t call yourself a fan like you did in the article and don’t count your editor one either – I may never never have made bold political or cultural statements before- because my gift is the warmth I live my life with and the self reflection I share generously.

This led to many of Del Rey’s fans trolling and harassing Powers, and it also led many critics and fans to rush to Powers’ defense. Molly Lambert asked Del Rey about her decision to publicly lash out at Powers on Twitter. Here’s how she responded:

First of all, and this is very me, there were a million beautiful reviews that I didn’t read. And then I randomly see this one thing. In the piece, she said that I’d overcome something, and the way she said it one can only assume she meant I’d overcome child abuse. I’m like, “Don’t bring kids into it. Even if it’s me.” And I’ve never said anything about that…

I’ve put a lot of stuff out there on the table. But I’ve been very appropriate in other ways. I’m not throwing everything out there on the table for a reason. Mostly because my family is big and they’re here. I don’t go there. So it’s like, “Why do you think that you’re going to be the one to put that out there?”

When Lambert asked Del Rey whether she’d considered reaching out to Powers privately, here’s what Del Rey said:

No. By the way, I didn’t know she was a big journalist. It probably would have been a good time to exercise some restraint. But I felt that she wasn’t taking me seriously. My album’s not good because I overcame things from my childhood. It’s good because the melodies are great, and because I have a natural-born ability to put words together.

There’s more in there, including some extra conversation on whether or not Del Rey does or does not have a “persona,” but I don’t want to just copy-paste the whole damn interview into this blog post. You can read Lambert’s feature here.

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