---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 02 Oct 2001 22:50:35 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.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
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.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Oct 03 2001 - 16:15:03 EDT