A conversation with Judy Collins

  • Thursday, August 14, 2008 9:00pm
  • Life

By Laura H.F. Callender, Peninsula Spotlight

She’s in a cab in New York City on her way to yet another appointment in her busy schedule, but she’s gracious enough to chat with a woman on the other side of the country about her upcoming concert.

There’s nothing pretentious about Judy Collins. She answers her cell phone personally with a simple “Hello?”

Her voice is tranquil, and the only hint of her hectic pace is that she has to ask which concert the caller is talking about.

Before Collins arrives back in her native Pacific Northwest for the Aug. 23 concert in Port Angeles, she will have performed several concerts and maybe even squeezed in a visit with family who still live in Western Washington.

While the veteran folksinger has plenty of work on her plate between concerts and book signings — and lending her assistance to various charitable causes — she is quick to point out that she leads a very balanced life these days.

“I feel wonderful. I do it one day at a time. I take care of myself. I have a wonderful life that is filled with creativity and with friends and with work,” she says.

She manages an active lifestyle by keeping everything in balance with exercise, meditation, reading, working and spending time with friends and family.

She says she feels privileged to do what she does.

“Not everyone gets to do what they love for almost 50 years,” she says.

Collins’ first album was “A Maid of Constant Sorrow.” She recorded it at the age of 22. The title is prophetic in a way.

Collins has seen her share of sorrow.

The title song’s lyrics, she says, could speak to anyone:

“I am a maid of constant sorrow

“I’ve seen trials all of my days

“I’m going back to California

“Place where I was partly raised

“Your friends may say that I’m a stranger

“My face they’ll never see no more

“There is but one promise that’s given

“I’ll sail on God’s golden shore

“All through this world I’m bound to ramble

“Through sun and wind and drivin’ rain

“I’m bound to ride the western railway

“Perhaps I’ll take the very next train”

Collins, however, has had the grace and fortitude to turn the sorrows of her life into positives, not only refusing to let life defeat her, but finding the rainbow in the rain.

A recovering alcoholic herself, Collins lost her only son, Clark, to suicide in 1992 and has since become an advocate for suicide survivors.

Her book, Sanity & Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength, explores her journey in coming to terms with tragedy.

She received the 2000 Survivor Award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for her work in helping suicide survivors.

She credits her 40-p lus-year custom of journaling with helping her get through the hard times.

“Tragedy is something that is not exclusive to me. Many, many people have losses, and I think it’s fortunate when we are able to write about them and help others get through those traumas.”

Her only regret, she says, is that she didn’t write in her journals consistently in the 1960s. She wrote down her dreams and hopes, but didn’t start a routine of serious journaling until a decade later.

It’s an essential practice, she says, for anyone who is, or wants to be, in a creative arena. Writing down one’s thoughts, dreams and desires is an excellent way of getting things out onto the table.

“I firmly believe that journaling has been instrumental in helping me live a saner and cleaner life,” she says.

She still writes down her dreams, she says. After all, hope is sometimes the only emotion that can lift one’s spirits.

Collins is the proverbial poster child for being as happy as one decides to be.

“I have a very happy life. Whatever the trials and tribulations people go through, I believe it is possible to be happy no matter what. That is my intention and my philosophy.

“It’s not a place for cowards, this planet,” she declares.

The world hands everyone a heaping helping of hard times. Collins acknowledges that.

“They say that everything that happens to you, good or bad, has some gift in it. When Clark d ied, I was told by people who were there and knew what happened, that there would be a gift in it and I just had to find it.

“Perhaps the gift is transcending the taboo, the devastation and understanding that these things happen to all of us. Perhaps that is what the planet is about. We’ve been told by all spiritual leaders — the Buddha and the Christ — we’re told to have compassion. That’s why we’re here. We have to have compassion for ourselves.”

Collins says she is currently reading for the first time Paradise Lost by John Milton.

“It’s a heck of a handful to handle. But one thing I’m sure about — there is a devil. There is a hell. It’s right here on Earth. It has to do with suffering. But, more it has to do with our self-perpetuating suffering that’s hard to break.

“Sometimes our default position is unhappiness,” she says. “It’s not so important what you go through as your attitude toward what you’re going through. It’s about changing our attitudes and getting perspective. I think journaling helps with that a lot, among other things.”

She has performed in Port Angeles before, but it has been 12 years. She was born in Seattle and her sister lives in Vancouver, Wash., so she visits the area occasionally.

Collins says she’s looking forward to the concert at Port Angeles High School.

“I hope they [audience members] have a good time and enjoy it. I think it should be a wonderful night,” she says.

She’s promised to perform some of the old songs that took her sweet soprano voice to the top of the charts in the ’60s and ’70s. And, she’s promised some of her new songs as well as “some surprises.”

Collins has numerous top 10 hits — including “Send in the Clowns,” “Both Sides Now” and “Someday Soon” — plus two Grammy awards and more than 40 gold- and platinum-selling albums.

She has authored three books.

Collins started her own independent label, Wildflower Records, in 1999 with an ongoing goal of remastering and rereleasing her early recordings and making them available for the first time on CD.

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