COLUMN SEVENTY-THREE, JULY 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
THE LEADING LADY
Judy Collins is a leading lady.
Like Myrna Loy used to be and Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck and
Rosalind Russell. The kind of
actress who can slip into any role as if it were just a change of costume, an
Indian dress, an evening gown, some log cabin homespun or a negligee.
When she sings Marat/Sade, I can see her standing on the
battlements holding a ragged flag "while grenades explode in the background
and sol?diers reach up their hands to her."
One of the most wrenching moments of the now legen?dary
Woody Guthrie Memorial Concert in Carnegie Hall in 1967 was Judy reciting some
of Woody's prose. In that audience,
one of the most sophisticated New York will ever see, you could look around and
find tears running down people's cheeks during Judy's performance.
When is someone going to put her in a movie?
When you think of a leading lady, you think of words
like charm and poise and grace and elegance. I remember an old Hollywood producer telling me how Grace
Kelly was the last of them. "Instead
of being in cinemascope," he said, "now she's on a postage
stamp." Oh, there are still a few of them around, heroic figures in an age
when films are so intent on getting underneath life's covers that they forget
they're shooting in the dark. Ask for class and they give you Sandy Dennis.
Since when is a neurotic twitch identifiable with charm, poise, grace and
To be a leading lady, you can't just be a roll in the
hay, you have to be able to weath?er the years. Pretty young things are always good for a night, but leading
ladies know how to make you want to stay with them.
Judy's been with us a long time now, And we've stayed
with her. They used to call her a folksinger, but for as long as they did, she
had to grow up in Joan Baez's shadow. Still, you could tell there was
something durable about her.
It was finally with her In My Life album, with
sym?phonic and show tune ar?rangements of songs by Ran?dy Newman, Leonard
Cohen, Bob Dylan and the Beatles, that she broke through to a larger audience.
Then she recorded Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now and you could
hear her on Top 40 radio. Even so, she never became a pop star. More often than not, you could find her home in her apartment
on W. 79th St., practicing, reading, learning.
She still takes voice lessons, from a teacher named Max Margolies, whose
method is not to give instruction in singing but in
the philosophy that a singer must have to stay in good voice.
Now Judy herself is talking about teaching. I'd rather see her have her
own TV show.
She gave her annual pre?Christmas concert in
Carnegie Hall, her second show there of a weekend. Both were to sellout
audiences. To be a great singer,
you also have to be a great actor. As
an instrument, Judy's voice is one of the finest of any of our female stars',
but as an actress she transcends herself. You
can hear it on her records, but she overwhelms you with it in the flesh.
She sang Someday Soon, Chelsea Morning, Albatross
and her Jacques Brel songs. And with each one, she played a different role.
A leading lady?
There's also another word: authority.
Judy has always been more of an interpretative artist than a creative
one. Seldom does she sing songs she
herself has written but she has the instinct and the taste to pick the songs of
others that are right for her.
Interpretation is primarily an actor's function.
Acting is primarily what Judy does.
On her new album, Whales and Nightingales, the
difference of her roles in each, song is enhanced by the fact that the album was
recorded at various times and places over almost a 12-month period.
She even laid down one vocal track in St. Paul's Cathedral in London.
There are two songs from Jacques Brel and one from Bob Dylan's New
Morning album, Time Passes Slowly. There is an instrumental concocted
by arranger Joshua Rikin, who also worked out her accompaniments on In My
Life. But the most sensational accompaniment is by the humpback whale,
recorded by aquaphone in the waters off Bermuda.
While Judy sings an a capella version of Farewell to Tarwathie,
an old whaling song, the whales howl with a sound more mystical and unearthly
than you have ever heard before. A
gimmick? You'd never get that sound
on a Moog.
I visited with her briefly after the concert in her
dressing room with her boy friend, actor Stacey Keach, and her manager, Harold
Leventhal. "I'm tired,"
she said, her eyes looking away. They
are certainly among the most spectacular eyes ever to look out from an album
cover. "There's nothing exciting to tell you? she said. "I'm
"Is that because you're happy?" I asked.
There have been rumors that she and Stacey are
already married and on the way to having a family, but I didn't press that issue
"I've reached a point where I have to start
transplanting things into myself," she said. "Not that I'm not learning, but I'm getting played out
in a certain way. I think I'll take
next year off. I'm getting sick and
tired of this scene."
I've heard that from Judy before but a leading lady always
comes out fresh and clean for the next time.
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