Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes

Judy Collins' memoir Sweet Judy Blue Eyes tells the fairy tale story of a talented woman's career in the music business beginning in the early sixties when middle class women were largely raising families or otherwise standing by their man. But it also details the undertones of an adulthood spent in denial of alcoholism and depression and in living a public life posing as an invulnerable person when Collins was anything but on the inside.

In a breathy and candid style, Collins talks about her marriage at 19 and a long custody battle for her only child of that marriage, son Clark Taylor, who committed suicide in 2003. She discusses, with some regret, her need to earn money after her divorce from Clark's father which resulted in intermittent living arrangements with Clark as he was growing up. Collins' self-portrayal is one of a tenacious woman who succeeds in using her talent to both earn a living and work for the social and political change she so ardently believed in.

Judy Collins writes openly about her battle with alcoholism, her many affairs with talented men, including Stephen Stills who wrote for her the brilliant and heartfelt tribute Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. From photographs included in the book, as well as snippets of conversation from Collins' perspective, it appeared they were madly in love and perfect for each other but needed to part for the sake of their respective careers. It was also a west coast/east coast sort of dilemma. Stills living and working in Laurel Canyon and Collins wanting to remain in New York City close to the folk scene in Greenwich Village and to her son who visited from Connecticut.

When writing about her relationships, Collins used good judgement and restraint. Always a class-act.  Here is what Collins wrote about the night she and Stephen Stills broke up and how he shared the song Suite: Judy Blue Eyes with her:

 "It would have been enough that he could spell out the troubles in our love affair, but the song itself was so glorious, so transporting, that had it not been about me, I would have dreamed it might have been - it was a triumph of writing, of feeling, of his deep melodic gifts. I had heard a lot of songs and sung some that had become hits. I knew I was listening not only to my story but also to a song that was going to be for all times, not just for ours. It was a classic and it broke my heart."

As a reader, I was happy to be transported to the canyons of Southern California and the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the time. Many names from both coasts and beyond are dropped in the book - Dave Van Ronk, Phil Ochs, Peter Seeger and of course, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.  Collins discusses her friendship with Leonard Cohen and muses as to why they were never lovers.  (I'd be wondering, too.) Collins mentions Joni Mitchell several times, once describing her at a party in west L.A. this way:

"From time to time a certain look would pass over her face as she caught the eye of someone or noticed something she didn't cotton to, but then, like the sun peeking out from the clouds, she would break into a smile or even a song." 

Once, when in the company of Janis Joplin, the latter leaned over the table to Collins and said "You know, one of us is going to make it and it's not going to be me."

My only objection to Sweet Judy Blue Eyes besides the icky-goo title is...urrr...the airbrushed and exaggerated photo that was chosen for its cover.  A naturally beautiful woman like Judy Collins shouldn't feel the personal or public pressure to look perfect. If one looks inside the jacket to read her story, it soon becomes obvious that the life of Judy Collins was anything but perfect.

The Judy Collins Website

My next book was going to be Truman Capote's In Cold Blood from 1966, but a very special book fairy sent me this book and so Truman will have to wait.  I need to be right here, right now.  :-)  


  1. Judy Collins has a lovely voice and has certainly mixed it with the best. She came this way last year and played a tiny club date - I should have gone but didn't. How stupid is that? Think I'll look out for this book sometime.

    Good luck with the Tibetan Buddhism! :)

  2. I've always loved Judy Collins. Great voice, always seemed like a nice person.

    I think it is hard to be so popular, I don't think many people can deal with it very well.

    I lived in the little town of Eagar, AZ as a child. John Wayne had his ranch there and one day during John Wayne days I got to stand right next to him. He ran out of publicity stills to give away and I remember him trying to placate a girl who was mad that she didn't get one. I felt so sorry for him.

  3. Ah, Judy's sweet - sweet voice, sweet person!

  4. The beloved and famous folk, pay a very high price for being and smiling in public all the time, while inwardly they want some ME time.Very sad.

  5. SB - I think I would go see Judy Collins if she performed at a small venue locally. Gordon Lightfoot is playing here in May at a small and much-loved venue called The Iron Horse. I may attend that show.

    Yogi - interesting anecdote about John Wayne.

    Francis - a suite of sweets!

    imac - true, especially a sensitive person like Judy Collins and with so much at stake in revealing her issues with alcohol. Already, she'd been denied custody of her son because she was in therapy. And in those days there wasn't the awareness of alcoholism we have today.

  6. I thought the cover looked too unreal
    I love Judy
    her music heals

  7. Di - yeah...and the over-emphasis on "sweet" was the slightest bit annoying...but now I sound like a

  8. I've always liked and respected Judy Collins but hardly remember any of her songs, but for one: Trust Your Heart.

    Take good care, dear friend.

  9. Great review, Gina! Love the song and the voice, which is from my era ... but transports to this one.

  10. Susan - Trust Your Heart is one I'm not familiar with. Will have to look it up. You take good care, too, dear Susan.

    Aguja - Thanks. It was a brief review but I really enjoyed Judy's book. It made somehow feel less vulnerable to my own problems, one which I share with her: depression. Always so good to hear from you. :-)

  11. Love Judy Collins and have seen her in concert many times. My favorite song is "Every Mother Has to Let Her Child Go" which is so poignant if you have ever had a child who tore themselves from your home and heart. Her understanding of the human soul makes her music comforting to all of us aging hippies. I'll look for the book in my local library.


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