Longtime Fans Still Sing Collins' Praises

Fairfield Citizen-News
December 17, 2008

The line was long at the check-out counter at Borders Monday evening, but one easily could spot the Judy Collins fans. They were carrying the large vinyl record covers from the '60s, along with the just-released CD, "Born to the Breed: A Tribute to Judy Collins." While the packaging of the folk and pop singer's music may be different nowadays, her strong fan base has not wavered.

As one middle-aged gentleman noted, "You discover Judy Collins when you're young, but don't realize how deep the passion of her songs are until you get older."

His sentiments were echoed by a number of longtime fans, including resident Barbara Loss, who has been a reading consultant for the Fairfield public school system for more than 30 years. Standing on the line, among the holiday shoppers, Loss was clutching Collins' old record albums moments before the singer's arrival to promote the CD, which has songs by many of this country's leading singer / songwriters, in their own right, including Joan Baez, Jimmy Webb and Dolly Parton. The album is produced by Collins' own record label, Wildflower Records.

Moments later, Collins, who had come to Fairfield from her home in Manhattan, walked briskly down the aisle between rows of seated fans, walked up to the front of the gathering of more than 50 mostly middle-aged people awaiting her arrival, grabbed a microphone, greeted her fans, and with a "I like to get this out of the way," burst into a rendition of her popular, "Both Sides Now." From the first sound of her signature singing voice, Collins demonstrated, at age 69, she is still the talented singer / songwriter that has sustained her career for more than 40 years.

Collins, who told her audience she had lived for a time in Greens Farms, kept up the tempo of her presentation with a mix of song and narration as she talked about the 15 singers and songs on her new CD, which begins with Shawn Colvin's rendition of "Secret Gardens" and ends with Leonard Cohen's reciting the lyrics for "Since You've Asked."

Collins, who grew up as a classical pianist before becoming a singer, told her audience that she began singing other people's songs until she met Cohen, to whom she had shown her song "Susannah." He immediately decided to record it and then suggested she start singing her own songs.

Her "Born to the Breed" CD is just a sampling of the range and level of her talent as a songwriter and brings to the listening audience a mix of songs from the most respected and talents stylists in the country. For example, Dolly Parton, a prolific and successful songwriter herself, offers a rendition of "Fisherman's Song"; both Cohen and Baez sing their versions of "Since You've Asked." Chrissie Hynde selected Collins' popular "My Father," which Collins wrote in tribute to her father, Chuck, a blind radio disk jockey, one of the many people featured in Collins' book, "The Seven T's: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy."

This is Collins' fifth book and offers insight and advice for living a peaceful productive life, especially following great tragedy and losses. A great deal of the impetus for the book came from the tragic death of Collins' only child, Clark, whose suicide in 1992 at the age of 33 catapulted the singer into extreme depression and despair.

In her book's Introduction, she writes: "I was heartbroken. I was beyond devastation. I wanted to die, to pack it in, call it a day, call it quits, stop in my tracks."

Later in her book, Collins makes reference to Henri Matisse, the painter, who she writes " said of himself that he would never have been a painter if he not been unhappy not all of us can become internationally known painters out of our pain, but that isn't the point. We know that pain is often the touchstone of beauty. We come from pain, and it guides us into desire and appreciation of the world in ways that we cannot apprehend until and unless we have experienced loss."

In her book, she quotes Cohen, who said, '"There's a crack in everything; but that's how the light gets in."'

She also writes about the feeling of loss following her father's death, a man of great talent and love, yet suffered from alcohol addiction, like Collins' son Clark, and like Collins herself, who in her book admits to 23 years of alcohol addiction until she became sober. She even admits to her struggles with bulimia.

However, through her losses, her sorrow and depression, her journey in life led her down many paths of healing and recovery. She offers seven steps toward healing, which can be applied to all aspects of living a good life. The steps are:

Truth: Tell it. Regardless of how terrible the facts may be and how hard it is to talk about it.

Trust: Allow it. Don't let the painful circumstances prevent you from talking with friends Trust the people around you to give you the support you need.

Therapy: Get it. Seek help whether through traditional talk therapy, your art, meditation or whatever method you choose.

Treasure. Hold on. Don't stop reassuring your loved one[s].

Thrive. Look up. Keep living with your eyes wide open. Don't give in to the temptation to use alcohol or any other addiction to blunt or blur your sadness.

Treat. Nurture yourself. Give yourself the gift of kind understanding.

Transcend. You must. Live a life of joy, abundance and forgiveness.

In the book, Collins offers much focus on the importance of moving forward and concentrating on activities that make a person feel better. She encourages people to make a list. Her own list includes exercise, eat right, talk, write, practice, take action, work, learn, play and pray.

At Borders, Collins was the epitome of what she espouses. Dressed in a two-piece form-fitting outfit that emphasized her slimness, she spoke and sang with great enthusiasm about her new CD and prospects for releasing volume two next year.

That was good news for fans, including Gary Libow, a journalist from West Haven who has been a fan for decades. He bought a couple of Collins' CDs, including her recording of the traditional holiday songs, which he said was a "good stocking stuffer."

Commenting on her appearance, Libow said, "I loved it. A little different, but she still has it." He noted how great her voice sounded, even without accompaniment. As with Fairfield resident Loss, Libow brought album covers for Collins to sign.

Loss seemed to sum up much of the sentiment that others who had attended the event felt: "Collins puts you in a different era call it youth."

Maybe, but thirtysomething Heather Wakefield, an employee of Greenfield Animal Hospital has been a longtime fan and owns a collection of at least 15 Collins' albums. "She has probably the most beautiful voice in folk and pop music."