Abbie Hoffman praised her, Crosby, Stills & Nash sang about her and the Clintons named their daughter after her recording of "Chelsea Morning." But the legacy of Judy Collins will always be the body of music she recorded as one of the most eclectic and celebrated icons of the 1960s. With a career spanning over five decades, Collins has tried her hand as a singer, activist and author, garnering praise at every turn and emerging each time stronger and more outspoken.
In anticipation of the release of her new album, memoir and children's book, all slated for release on Oct. 18, Huff/Post50 sat down with the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter to discuss life, love and loss.
To what do you attribute your longevity in the music business?
There was a big musical background in my family, and from the very beginning I was studying piano and performing on my father's radio show. And by the time I was recording and touring as a singer, I had this tremendous support system from my family and from the club owners. I also owe a huge deal of gratitude to Elektra records, who were really crazy about me from the start and with whom I signed my contract 50 years ago.
Did it ever feel like this life that was unfolding for you was too good to be true?
From the start I was just so lucky, and I took advantage of that. And because I didn't write songs in those days, I was able to find all these great writers like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman. We recorded Bob Dylan's work very early on in 1963. There was a lot going on and I was part of it, both as a contributor and a recipient.
What can fans expect to read about in your memoir (due out Oct. 18)?
They're going to be reading about Judy Collins. It's a picture of my personal life - my love affair with Stephen Stills, my drinking - but it's also a portrait of the times. I wanted to talk about what it felt like to be 22 and signing with a label and making my first record. They'll read about the village in 1961 and all the artists that were there like Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. They're going to get a glimpse into this wonderful scene, the people I knew and the lovers I had. When my husband finished reading it he said, 'I guess I won.'
What's your secret to a successful marriage?
I got lucky. I finally found the right guy and he's wonderful. I think it's difficult to be married to someone like me who has had this sort of career, and he's not a musician - thank goodness - so I think that makes it a bit easier.
What's your take on today's music scene?
I started a record label a few years ago so I have a number of young artists who have signed contracts with us. It's sort of my way of keeping track of up and comers the way I've always done. Look, some of the stuff coming out today is great and some of it's not, it's the way it has always been.
So you don't lament today's music scene as not being comparable to that of the 1960s?
I'm a working musician, so I consider myself part of the ongoing musical tradition. My advice as a musician is that you've always got to push yourself to be better and to develop something that's personal. Don't worry about the competition or the rest of the music business because I'm doing everything I can do to keep growing as an artist and to keep presenting what I hope is a life changing experience when people come to hear me sing.
How long have you been working on this new album (also due out October 18th)?
When I started to write my book, "Sweet Judy Blue Eyes," about three years ago, Random House asked if there was a chance I was working on an album that I would want to release at the same time. And I always have an album cooking and I'm always thinking about the new songs that I'm writing and what I might be recording, It's been a couple of years in the works, but it's done and I'm very happy with it.
From Collins' latest CD, Bohemian
LISTEN: "Pure Imagination" by Judy Collins
LISTEN: "Cactus Tree" by Judy Collins and Shawn Colvin
You also have a children's book coming out that day don't you? Yeah! It's called "When You Wish Upon A Star," and it's my second for Peter Yarrow's publishing group, "Imagine."
Do you have advice for people who are struggling with grief or loss of a loved one? (Collins' son Clark Taylor committed suicide in 1992, prompting his mother's entry into mental health activism).
Grief is, of course, part of everyone's life. You don't get the big moments of joy without the terrible moments. A lot of the things that I do to cope are things that I have done for decades, one of which is meditation and another is learning to talk about things with people I trust. And I keep a journal, which I think makes a huge difference in one's life. Essentially, it comes down to the fact that a balanced life can handle tragedy much better than one in disarray. When I lost my father in 1968 I was drinking, which made coping extremely difficult. I lost my mother this past year, and it was a completely different grieving process. It's not that the gravity of the loss was lighter; I just had the tools I needed to deal with it.
You've had a long history of being involved in various social issues. Is there a cause that you're particularly beholden to at this moment?
I've been involved in speaking out about mental health since my son's death 19 years ago. I'm very frustrated with politics at this moment as many of us are, but my basic belief is that we have so many internal issues that deal with how we live and how we handle what's going on. I think mental health issues are very prevalent and I'm a strong believer in breaking the suicide taboo by writing about it and talking about it in a public setting. I'm also very committed to embracing a holistic approach to things and breaking the deep dependence we have on pills. We try to take something for everything that comes down the pipe. And it's not just because I'm sober that I say this, but it has made a huge difference in my life. I don't take anything.
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