The Austin Chronicle

Memoir Suite

Rock & roll books from Austin to Beijing

Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, December 16, 2011, Music

Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music

by Judy Collins
Crown Archetype, 368 pp., $26

If anyone has the right to write a memoir, it's Judy Collins. Unlike those Kardashians, Collins has lived a life worthy of meaningful reflection, and Sweet Judy Blue Eyes is an exhaustive portrait of the 1960s and 1970s – the most tumultuous decades of the singer's life and career. Collins' description of her start singing in tiny clubs in Boulder, Colo., in the late 1950s is somewhat detached; it's clear she's more interested in the juicier bits of her personal and professional history. As her career begins to gain momentum, the memoir's narrative becomes a who's who of the 1960s folk scene: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Joni Mitchell. As a result, this memoir functions as a musicological text, from Collins' explanation of the history and context of folk music to her documentation of the movement of which she was such an integral part. Indeed, as Collins documents her experiences, major historical events unspool behind her, including the Cuban missile crisis, integration at the University of Mississippi, the Kennedy assassinations, and Woodstock. Meanwhile, as her career soars, Collins spirals downward into a miasma of alcoholism, eating disorders, throwaway sex, and a devastating love affair with Stephen Stills, whose "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is a defining song of the era. Collins' song of herself is easy to read (an uncharitable description would call it facile), her voice humble and straightforward in a story of great highs, horrific lows, and quiet healing. One wishes that the silver-haired dowager of folk had included more reflections on what her life is like now, after the seas calmed.

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