By David Hinske
Over the course of her 77 years on earth, Judy Collins has been nominated for five Grammy awards, winning for her recording of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” She has made 36 studio albums, seven live albums, appeared in a handful of films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for directing a documentary movie about her piano instructor. If that isn’t enough, she has also found the time to author 10 books, the number of which she says, “surprises me!” Perhaps less widely known is that she was also the muse behind Stephen Stills’ huge hit song from 1969, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
Having sold out the Taos Community Auditorium last year, Mary Domito’s Mollydog Productions is bringing Collins back to Northern New Mexico for two nights, Jan. 19 and 20.
“I can’t wait!” Collins says during a recent phone interview with Taos Magazine. “That’s going to be fun.”
Collins was an early champion of many great writers, recording songs by Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs, Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan, among others. She most recently hinted that she might know where Nobel Laureate Dylan is hiding, although she laughingly denied he was in her guest bedroom in Manhattan. She adds, with her tongue firmly in her cheek, that the Nobel prize committee “didn’t do their homework. For such an illustrious group, they are woefully uninformed!”
When choosing songs to record or perform, Collins’ instinct is sharp. The combination of melody, chord structure and lyrics is a craft, she says, different from poetry.
“The thing that happens to me with a song is that it goes one way or the other. Either I grab it and it grabs me and hits me in the heart or I never want to hear it again,” Collins says. “One or the other. Structure, genre, who wrote it … none of that counts. The only thing that counts is if it hits me in the heart.”
She adds, “A lyric is not a poem. I think people get confused about that. A lyric is specially crafted to suit the melody. It lives with it, it hunts with it, and sleeps with it, and is never going to be removed from it. A lyric will generally not stand up to be read as poetry. The two will never be the same. A lyric is a lyric and a poem is a poem and they both serve very different purposes.”
The recently released album, “Silver Skies Blue” was written and performed as a series of duets with singer/songwriter Ari Hest.
“Writing that together was really a thrill for me,” Collins says. “I’ve never done anything like that before. We sat in the studio and pondered and looked and thought and played it over and over and over again and changed the lyrics and then put them back and then fumbled around for a while and then we’d have lunch!”
She describes the process as bringing “a couple of lines first and a chorus maybe and then you go to work. I’ve read enough about collaboration to know that sometimes there are screaming fights; it all depends on the people and probably the mood they’re in. But I get along very well with Ari, I know his work pretty well, so I was pretty sure that everything was going to be fine and we would get along, which we did.”
It was music that got her back up on her feet after her son Clark’s suicide in 1992. She says after the devastation and shock and thinking that she could not go on, it was her music and her own songwriting that began the healing process. Collins is now an outspoken activist for suicide prevention and survivor recovery.
After more than 60 years of performing you might think Collins would be tired of the road and the travel. Not so, she says, “I was born for this. I love to travel.”
She has the routine pretty well figured out. “I travel with my own food. Proteins, salad, vegetables and fruit. I have to plan to make sure I’ve got what I need. I carry lunch with me and what I call a ‘hostage meal,’” for when travel goes awry. In fact, she has just completed a new book to be released in February titled “Cravings” that examines her decades of experience with eating disorders and other food issues.
Contact the Taos Center for the Arts for tickets and more information at 575-758-2052 (tcataos.org), or visit mollydogproductions.com.
TAOS MAGAZINE | JAN/FEB 2017