Who Knows Where the Time Goes
Fifty years of Judy Collins, iPhone included
In a decade now 50 years past, the song stood alone. That's not so different from music's current reality, where songs detach from albums as individual downloads.
Judy Collins began her career recording albums in 1961 with A Maid of Constant Sorrow and its follow-up the next year, Golden Apples of the Sun. Not until 1968 did she score a hit with "Both Sides Now." In its wake, Collins reigned supreme as the voice of choice for the aspiring talents of the East Coast folk scene, male and female alike.
Collins' shimmering hit also proved a commercial breakthrough for the song's struggling young author, Joni Mitchell. The song blended the Canadian's youthful weariness with Collins' carefree voice to great effect. It was a career-making collaboration for both women.
The flip side of the "Both Sides Now" vinyl 45 featured another contemporary folk song, this one by English singer-songwriter Sandy Denny. "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" demonstrated the strength of both singer and songwriter; Denny herself was a plaintive vocalist – brandy to Collins' summer wine voice. When Denny later appeared on the scene as vocalist for England's premier folkies Fairport Convention, American audiences were primed because of Judy Collins.
A Good Nose for Songs
Collins' crystalline soprano distinguished her immediately, as did arranging her own material. Five recent reissues from Collector's Choice illuminate many of these recordings.
By her Fifth Album in 1965, the Seattle native was the template for female folksingers – a sorority that included Joan Baez and Carolyn Hester (see "Double-Barrel Beautiful," Dec. 19, 2008) – who broadened the role beyond traditional material. Fifth includes three Bob Dylan songs ("Mr. Tambourine Man," "Daddy, You've Been on My Mind," "Tomorrow Is a Long Time"), plus Eric Andersen's "Thirsty Boots" and Phil Ochs' "In the Heat of the Summer." The Collector's Choice live bonus track, "It Isn't Nice," calls out in folk protest tradition the deaths of Medgar Evers and the Mississippi civil rights workers.
Even and gentle, Fifth Album remains definitive.
"I knew something exciting was happening," reflects Collins on the early 1960s East Coast folk scene. "It was extremely authentic, the talent, the people. The things we were fighting for were real. None of this news 24/7 where your attention ricochets from one thing to another. People cared about these things, wrote about them, and sang about them deeply.
"Yes, it still means something. I know there are certain political things about hip-hop and rap, but I don't happen to like rap, so I don't listen to it."
As stunning as Fifth Album was, In My Life trumped it. Its most traditional tunes were from theatrical productions, including "Pirate Jenny" from Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, and Collins exercised outrageously creative vision, adapting her seamless "Marat/Sade" medley from the Grand Guignol off-Broadway hit. In My Life brought the Beatles' ballad in with now-staple compositions from Dylan ("Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"), Leonard Cohen ("Suzanne"), and Jacques Brel ("La Colombe"), while branding novelist Richard Farina as a songwriter with the iconic "Hard Lovin' Loser." Seating Randy Newman ("I Think It's Going To Rain") next to Donovan ("Sunny Goodge Street"), In My Life set Collins' course to the stars.
"I have a good nose for songs, and I stick to that," muses the singer.
She also had a keen ear. By the time Collins recorded Whales & Nightingales in 1970, she was a bona fide star, blooming from '67's Wildflowers with "Both Sides Now" to '68's Who Knows Where the Time Goes with Ian Tyson's "Someday Soon." Whales & Nightingales found Collins still well-rooted in her favorite songwriters (Dylan's "Time Passes Slowly," Baez's "Song for David," Pete Seeger's "Oh, Had I a Golden Thread," Brel's "Marieke"), creating atmospheric arrangements ("Farewell to Tarwathie," "Simple Gifts") and composing ("Nightingale I & II").
In 1973, Collins' own material dominated True Stories & Other Dreams. "Che" and "Fisherman Song" reflected her folk background; others such as "Secret Gardens" and "Song for Martin" were quiet triumphs in a career that was shifting.
Here Comes Your Ghost Again
Paradise, Collins' 2010 release, plays out a divine reckoning of her five-decade oeuvre. Like Barbra Streisand or Linda Eder, she remains first and foremost a vocalist of uncommon talent. Her expressive voice bestows deserved grace on Jimmy Webb's "Gauguin," haunts "Ghost Riders in the Sky," and narrates Tim Buckley's "Once I Was."
Her song "Kingdom Come" heralds two exquisite new duets with voices entwined in Collins' past: Tom Paxton's "Last Thing on My Mind" with former lover Stephen Stills (who famously wrote "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" for her), and a shattering silver duet on "Diamonds and Rust" with Baez. Collins' voice still empties the thesaurus of heavenly words for "bells" and "crystal," delicate as dew settled on timeless tales of universal dreams.
As high-falutin' as that sounds, Collins remains modern.
"I do have an iPod, and I know how to work it! Then I got an iPhone and learned to play things on it, but then I drowned it. Dropped it in the toilet in London, and I pulled it out and thought I remembered my brother saying you could microwave it for a couple minutes. I did, and it blew up. So, I'm not completely technically savvy. Not by a long shot.
"A new iPhone is coming this week."
Judy Collins graces the One World Theatre, Friday, Aug. 27, 7 & 9:30pm.
In My Life
Whales & Nightingales
True Stories & Other Dreams