[sixties-l] Judy Collins at 62: Constant and Amazing Grace (fwd)

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Date: Wed Oct 03 2001 - 15:43:55 EDT

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    Date: Tue, 02 Oct 2001 22:50:35 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Judy Collins at 62: Constant and Amazing Grace

    Judy Collins at 62: Constant and Amazing Grace


    by Tim Page Washington Post Service
    Wednesday, October 3, 2001

    NEW YORK -- "Art is the best therapy," Judy Collins reflected last week as
    she sipped a Diet Coke seven floors above a grieving city. "We forget to
    emphasize this in our schools. But then there is a trauma and out come the
    crayons, out come the paints, out come the pieces of paper, because the
    children need to express themselves. Art gives sustenance - to everybody,
    not just children. People have told me that my music has helped them heal.
    And I'm glad about that, because music heals me as well."
    At 62, Judy Collins maintains a classic beauty that is quite impervious to
    time and place. She might have stepped out of a Florentine portrait from
    the Renaissance, a New England daguerreotype or, for that matter, a
    contemporary fashion magazine. Her hair is gold and gray now, but the
    famous blue eyes sparkle with intelligence and temperament.
    And it would seem a particularly good time to be Judy Collins. She has
    founded her own record company, called Wildflower, and has issued both a
    concert disk, "Live at Wolf Trap," and a single CD that encompasses her
    first two albums, "Maid of Constant Sorrow" and "Golden Apples of the Sun,"
    recorded for Elektra almost 40 years ago. Meanwhile, Rhino Records has
    brought out a Judy Collins retrospective, with several of her greatest hits
    - Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," Stephen
    Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns" and the hymn "Amazing Grace" among them.
    And last week, she was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the
    National Museum of Women in the Arts at its annual benefit concert.
    Collins had a distinctly unusual upbringing. She grew up in Seattle, the
    daughter of Chuck Collins, a singer and radio composer who had been blind
    since childhood. Antonia Brico, one of the first women to make a career as
    a symphonic conductor, was an early mentor (Collins would repay the debt by
    producing the 1974 documentary "Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman"). By 13
    she had made her professional debut as a pianist, playing a Mozart
    concerto. "I credit my classical training with teaching me discipline - how
    to practice and prepare - and I doubt I would still be working if I didn't
    have that base," she said.
    But Collins found herself drawn increasingly toward folk music, and by the
    time she was 16 she had begun playing guitar and singing in the clubs of
    Denver and Boulder, gradually migrating east to New York, where she
    appeared at the Village Gate. It was there that she was heard - and was
    immediately signed to a record contract - by Jac Holzman, the founder of
    Elektra. Her first disk, a collection of folk standards, was recorded in
    only five hours.
    "I don't think we made one edit," Collins recalled. "We just went in and
    played the material straight through. Looking back over 40 years, I think I
    had very good taste. There is not a single song on that record that I
    wouldn't feel comfortable singing today.
    "But my voice! It's unschooled, unsophisticated - I just didn't know how to
    sing! I sound more like a baritone than a soprano!" She laughed. "Well
    anyway, neither disk has been on CD before and this re-issue will give
    audiences an idea of where I began."
    Collins is too hard on herself. Her singing on those first recordings is
    indeed more rough-hewn than on her later disks. Yet the talent is apparent
    and there is an intensity to the interpretations that is in some ways more
    winning than the seraphic mellowness that characterizes many of her later
    "I can't sing a nasty line," Collins said, almost apologetically. "There
    are some wonderful, mean songs that I sometimes think I'd love to sing -
    maybe Sondheim's 'There's Something About a War' - but I just can't do
    them. It's just not my character."
    Although she has been involved in many political crusades - from civil
    rights and protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s through her
    current championship of Unicef and Amnesty International - Collins does not
    consider herself "primarily" a political artist. "I just want to do as much
    as I can for the good of the world," she said. "One of the reasons I sang
    'Amazing Grace' all those years ago was because I thought people needed to
    hear it."
    Collins's roseate utopianism has been sorely tested. She suffered from
    alcoholism and depression for many years, and in 1992 her son Clark
    committed suicide. Yet she has managed to keep a fairly positive outlook.
    She has recently completed her third book, "Singing Lessons," which she
    calls "a memoir of love, loss, hope and healing" about the death of her son.
    The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have left her
    "terrified, petrified," she said. "I'm not thinking at all well. All I
    want to do is sing, hug my friends and family, call my mother and brother
    every few hours. I believe in love. And prayers. And in getting on with
    your life - doing your work, whatever happens."
    Last summer Collins opened a tour that she calls her "Wildflower Festival,"
    presenting a series of concerts with her old friends and colleagues Roger
    McGuinn, Richie Havens and Janis Ian. "It was great fun," she said. "We've
    known each other forever and I think we were able to bring back some of the
    spirit of the times we lived through."
    She remains in touch with Cohen - "Talk about a man of mystery," she said,
    shaking her head with a fond grin - and sang at the funeral of the folk
    singer Mimi Farina, who died in July. Next summer she hopes to include the
    folksinger and songwriter Tom Paxton, whom she called a "brilliant, funny,
    grown-up guy," in the Wildflower Festival.
    In addition to her early championship of Cohen, Collins was among the first
    to record songs by Randy Newman, Jimmy Webb and Mitchell. "Now I'm learning
    a song called 'Drops of Jupiter,' by a group called Train, out of Atlanta,"
    she said. "It's marvelous. I really admire a songwriter named Beth Nielsen
    Chapman. And I've thought of doing a classical album - maybe the 'Songs of
    the Auvergne,'" referring to Joseph Canteloube's haunting settings of folk
    songs from a region of France.
    Collins said the late Teresa Sterne, who built Nonesuch Records into an
    enormously innovative label, was one of her heroes.
    "Tracey was the only woman who ran her own record company, and she had a
    terrible time of it," Collins remembered. "She was so smart, so detailed,
    such a perfectionist, but it was a man's world and she was treated
    horribly. Still, she made all those great records - records that will last.
    She's a great role model for me, a pioneer. I hope that her example will
    allow me to float my new label into longevity."
    Four decades after "A Maid of Constant Sorrow," Judy Collins has grown into
    a woman of near constant activity, full of energy and enthusiasm.
    Retirement, it would seem, is not an option.
    "It's very simple," she said in parting. "I plan to be performing as long
    as the possibility is there." And, outside on the street, as if by cue, a
    Peruvian flutist piped "Amazing Grace" to the dwindling autumn afternoon.

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