Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Sweet Judy Blue Eyes" by Judy Collins is an intelligent and sweet book.

The book is named after a love song Stephen Sills wrote about her when they were having "a brilliant affair," with much love, passion, argument and power struggle--"Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

They were maybe too much alike in personality; they both travelled a lot for work, and she drank a lot. It never really seemed to them like it could last, but they would have liked it to.

When Judy Collins hears "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" on the radio, on her CD player, as shopping background music, she is always present for it, as a great song she would have imagine being about her even if it weren't in fact actually about her.

The book title feels like "Thanks again, Stephen."

The book feels like largely a gratitude note to people she's loved in different ways.

She helped make big when she recorded his "Suzanne" before he was much known. Her hit recording made him known as a song writer. Before that he was known to a few for a couple of novels about the low life.

He had never performed publically until she invited to sing "Suzanne" at a benefit she was part of at New York City's Town Hall for the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

He was scared, said he didn't want to, couldn't. She said he could do it. She said, "I'll be right there."

He went out on stage at the benefit, started "Suzanne" a little shaky, got strong, and stopped and walked off halfway through the song. He later blamed a broken guitar string.

She was right there, offstage, and walked with him back on stage and they finished the song together. The crowd loved it.

He returned the favor of the singer getting the songwriter to sing when he asked her why she never wrote songs. She said she hadn't thought of it, and she started writing songs.

It seems odd that she hadn't thought of it, surrounded by singer songwriters, but she started out being trained to be a classical concert pianists, and those folks really don't expect to write music like they are playing.

She started sitting at the piano and waiting, and catching lines of words and bits of music and writing them down and waiting. She was acting just like all her singer songwriter friends, thought she didn't know it when she first did it in response to Leonard Cohen's "why don't you?'

Judy Collins writes, "Leonard Cohen never broke my heart, but his songs have, every time I sing or hear one of them. As Leonard says, 'There's crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.'"

She's good at honoring that crack/light relationship as she consistently writes about people she's known in a way that is interesting, detailed, and kind.

How goes being sensitive in a world filled with cracks and light?

A voice that's more beautiful than the world. A voice that distills the world so we can drink the world in in a new way.

These are not easy things to have.

Judy Collins and Janis Joplin met in a nightclub with loud music where they had to shout to be heard by each other.

Joplin shouted at Collins, who she'd just met, "One of us will make it, and it won't be me."

In Judy Collins' last, God willing, four years of drinking she was drinking twenty-four hours a day.

She couldn't go three hours without a drink. She preferred vodka.