Celebrating Judy Collins
For the past two years, Heck Of A Guy has commemorated the birthday of Judy Collins, both in appreciation of her own talents and in acknowledgment of her role as a central figure in the folk movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Because of her popularity, interpretive skills, and generosity, she influenced the work of her musical peers, such as Dylan and Seeger, and provided invaluable introductions to the public for some performers who were, at that time, barely past the young whippersnapper phases of their professional lives. Randy Newman, for example, benefited from an early boost from Collins as did Joni Mitchell and a Canadian poet and novelist, already in his 30s, who was trying to make it in the music biz. Leonard Cohen has repeatedly (and appropriately) credited Collins with encouraging and supporting his nascent career as well as popularizing his songs through her performances of them. 1
The Judy Collins Suite In The Tower Of Song
Not every musical icon who reaches the seventh decade handles his or her career in the same manner. Cohen’s successful 2008-2009 World Tour has been constructed on intensely rehearsed, diligently formatted, formal concerts with every element, songs, monologues, band introductions, …, well scripted.2
Judy Collins has taken another path, one that, at least from the cheap seats, seems to be successful for her. Despite its imperfect scansion, I like the idea behind the title of Stephen Holden’s recent New York Times story, Folk Goddess Descends From Her Lofty Pedestal.3 A couple of my favorite excerpts follow:
In recent years Ms. Collins has descended from the folk-goddess pedestal to emerge as a funny, self-effacing Irish-American storyteller, and the tension between her pristine singing voice and her salty reminiscences lends her shows a theatrical dimension. She reminisced at length about her first meeting with Leonard Cohen, who had no confidence in his talents until she recorded his song “Suzanne.” He returned the favor by persuading her to take up songwriting.
Her wildest tale described an adventure in Chicago on a winter night in which she caroused until 3 a.m. with two folk-singing colleagues, one of whom gave her a handgun for protection during the walk back to her hotel. Once safely in her room, she tried to remove the clip, and the gun went off.
Other memories reveal how ingrained she was in the nexus of the community that created the music for my cohort. She tells of sitting late into the evening in her sleeping gown while Bob Dylan worked on Mr. Tambourine Man in the next room and of becoming the subject of a Stephen Stills’ song, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, when he attempted to reconcile with her after a botched romance,
And even now, watching and listening to her sing is exhilarating.
Judy Collins Performs Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne
Credit Due Department: The photo of Judy Collins atop this post was taken by the PhotoPhreak
- Judy Collins also introduced Mitchell and Cohen, igniting their romantic fling. [↩]
- Cohen’s concerts have been so similar in content and execution that his fans debate with notable intensity the potential significance of modest shifts in lyrics, set lists, backup singers’ dance moves, and Cohen’s headgear. [↩]
- Folk Goddess Descends From Her Lofty Pedestal by Stephen Holden. New York Times. April 22, 2009 [↩]