Judy Collins

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Judy Collins

Post  Constance on Sun Dec 25, 2011 2:00 am

I'm reading Judy Collins' new book, "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes." I'm very impressed. She has amazing recall of the events of her 50-year career. Her discussion of the Greenwich Village folk scene is great. She writes rather a lot about Dylan as, first, an unknown and later as the newly famous man. She says that when she met him he displayed "a mixture of "innocence and arrogance." She bravely talks about her 30 years of drinking and depression. Sadly, when the boy is about 7 years old, she loses custody of him in a battle with her ex-husband. She did a lot in the Civil Rights movement, including going down to Mississippi to sing and draw out voters. I haven't gotten to the event yet in the book, but I know that her son tragically commited suicide, as did his grandfather on his father's side.

I saw her once in a bookstore. She's even more beautiful than she looks in photos.

Constance

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Re: Judy Collins

Post  eddie on Sun Dec 25, 2011 2:08 am

The New York Times review:

December 2, 2011

Judy Collins: Sweet Soprano

By JAMES GAVIN

SWEET JUDY BLUE EYES


My Life in Music

By Judy Collins

Illustrated. 354 pp. Crown Archetype. $26.

“Gentle voice amid the strife” is how Life magazine described the folk singer Judy Collins on the cover of its May 2, 1969, issue. The label accompanied a photo of a young woman whose distant, blue-eyed gaze hinted at strife of her own. Just months before, Collins had scored a top-10 hit with Joni Mitchell’s pained lament “Both Sides Now.” The record broke through in an age of Vietnam protesters and social revolutionaries, out to save the world but often floundering personally; of young Americans caught between the conformity of their parents’ generation and the pressure to rebel. Collins spoke to the lost soul in all of them when she sang, in Mitchell’s words, “I really don’t know life at all.”

A few joyful songs appeared in her repertory, notably “Amazing Grace,” the 18th-century hymn that she took to the charts in 1970. But one didn’t listen to Collins to feel good. Hurt was etched into her voice: a soprano with an earthy sweetness, floating forlornly like a stray balloon. Onstage, she ventured with her guitar to places that few folk singers went. She voiced the cries of French revolutionary peasants in a medley from “Marat/Sade,” a 1965 Broadway production; she walked the gangplank to suicide in Leonard Cohen’s “Dress Rehearsal Rag.” Later Collins recorded “Send in the Clowns,” an actress’s archly formal swan song from Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music,” and made it the unlikeliest of disco-era hits. At the piano she delivered her original songs, full of lush storybook imagery and longing for the unreachable. “Albatross” asked, “Will there never be a prince who rides along the sea and the mountains / Scattering the sand and the foam into amethyst fountains?”

Her unshakable calm hid the harder facts of her life, but her new memoir exposes them. In her teens, Collins had begun a 23-year drinking problem of mounting severity. Along the way came depression, blackouts, bulimia, suicidal fantasies and so many stormy love affairs it was hard to keep track. The one with the guitarist Stephen Stills inspired him to write “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” an anguished conceptual piece that he recorded with his band, Crosby, Stills and Nash. But as Collins writes, “Any real emotional commitment seemed impossible for me.”

The singer has released several previous autobiographical books, including “Trust Your Heart,” published in 1987. In this moving new volume, she takes her richest journey yet through her musical past. But a larger story emerges: of a woman tortured by demons that waged war on a compulsively productive, painstakingly ordered nature, in which achievement counted above all else.

Happily, “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music” rises high above the kind of self-serving prurience seen on VH1’s tell-all series “Behind the Music.” For one thing, Collins is a real writer, whose clear and vivid prose is matched by the eye of a keen observer. Time has given her the gift of irony, especially when she looks in the mirror. Janis Joplin, Collins writes, “was expected to fly too high and eventually to crash. I was expected to be the flower-child folk singer who might soar but would come softly to my feet in golden fields.”

Collins places her struggles within the context of “that thrilling and terrifying time we call ‘the Sixties,’ when so many great songs proclaimed our grand, noble visions.” She recalls that era without sentimentality. “It was a time of tremendous hope and of tremendous naïveté,” she writes, but also one of “undeniable destructiveness as the war raged and the young trashed their bodies and their lives with the drugs many of us thought were so cool.”

The singer had learned about self-­destruction, as well as hell-raising, while growing up in Denver. Her father, Chuck Collins, was a popular radio singer, deeply cultured and ragingly alcoholic. She and her four siblings were all “raised to be rebels,” but Judy learned the fastest. At 15, she ditched her classical piano studies; a tragic traditional ballad, “Barbara Allen,” had lured her toward the budding folk movement. Its artists were truth-tellers in a landscape of political hypocrisy, and soon Collins joined their ranks. A teenage marriage to Peter Taylor, a literature student, brought a son, Clark, but the union crumbled; Collins was increasingly on the road and drinking to excess, and she lost custody of Clark.

Career had taken over her life. In 1961, Jac Holzman, the founder of Elektra Rec­ords, signed Collins. She became a fixture in the Greenwich Village folk scene, home, as she calls it, of “the opinionated, the determined, the angry, the oppressed, the ones with the searing, searching points of view.” Her snapshots of its troubadours are unfailingly sharp. “His hair was indescribable, unkempt but soft like a child’s,” Collins notes of Bob Dylan. “The curls framed his face, a sweet face but one full of contradiction, a combination of innocence and arrogance.” Of Leonard Cohen, the Canadian doomsday poet whose songs she brought to widespread attention: “He had that charm, that glint in his eyes, that secretly knowing air that always attracted me to the dangerous ones.” There are similarly shrewd glimpses of Joan Baez, Josh White, Phil Ochs, Odetta and dozens more pillars of ’60s folk. Collins joined them in the trenches of the antiwar movement and the fight for equality. In one of the book’s strongest episodes, she accompanies Fannie Lou Hamer, a fearless black activist, throughout rural Mississippi on a quest to persuade frightened blacks to defy the Klan and vote. “You have to use your ­voices,” Hamer insisted.

Collins used hers to tour constantly and to make album after artful album, even though drinking had her in a stranglehold. She treats it as a disease: “It was in my history, in my family and in my heart, and by the time I was 20, it was part of my body chemistry.” She says firmly: “I did not drink because of my problems. I had problems because I drank.” Her stance is a valid one in recovery programs, even if it may frustrate readers who want her to probe her alcoholism’s psychological roots.

By 1978 she was too close to death for such considerations. Finally, Dr. Stanley Gitlow, a recovery expert, persuaded her to try rehab. It worked. Collins had just met Louis Nelson, the man who became (and remains) her husband. Her career resumed with all the gut determination of before. Then in 1992 came her greatest blow: Collins’s son, who had long battled addiction, committed suicide. An earlier book, “Sanity and Grace,” detailed her survival of that tragedy. Her comments on it here are chillingly terse: “Each day I chose not to drink. And I chose not to take my own life.”

Now 72, Collins sings with an uncannily preserved voice. Her shows today are rambling autobiographical narratives, interspersed with music and laughs. But once she sits at the piano, she becomes as eager as ever to share her pain with strangers. In “Wings of Angels,” she even relives the agonizing death of Clark: “I’d give it all, give all I have / For one more chance to hear you speak.” Both in song and in this book, she has kept the old turmoil at hand, ready to be turned into art.


James Gavin’s most recent book is “Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne.”




eddie
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Re: Judy Collins

Post  Constance on Sun Dec 25, 2011 2:10 am

Thanks for posting! Yes, I read the review in the Times about a month or six weeks ago. The book didn't make the cover of the book review section but it was on page 2 or 4 (I remember it started on the left hand side!).

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Re: Judy Collins

Post  Constance on Sun Dec 25, 2011 2:13 am

I just noticed that the reviewer cites the same words I did about Dylan, that his face combined a mixture of "innocence and arrogance." I must have tucked that phrase in the back of my read from reading the review.

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