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Issue 593 : February 8-14, 2007

BACKSTAGE WITH ... JUDY COLLINS

by James Gavin

If Joan Baez was the saint of ’60s folksingers, stoically leading the war-weary flocks to safety, Judy Collins was the vulnerable one: a troubadour who captured the decade’s fragility and loss, while offering a calming sense that all would turn out well. And for Collins, it has. Forty-six years after her first album, her liquid-silver soprano is glowingly intact, as is her social conscience. Having survived alcoholism and her son’s suicide, she’s matured into an earth mother of reassurance, much of it filtered into several autobiographical books, including Morning, Noon, and Night: Living the Creative Life, published in 2005. She long ago moved into artier forms of pop—in 1974 she made “Send in the Clowns” an unlikely hit—and now this onetime bohemian, 67, is mounting that elitist perch, the Café Carlyle, for three weeks. It’s the first small club she’s played since the ’60s, and a hundred bucks will get you in the door.

Such a bourgeois place you’ll be singing in!

Well, I love the Carlyle. It’s a New York institution and a very special cultural thing that happens nowhere else—which I will bring an antiestablishment air to! [Laughs] It’s intimate, it’s New York, and it’s a chance for me to be home and do what I do.

In the ’70s it seemed as though you were walking away from folk music.

I made a conscious decision to open up to a lot of other aspects of who I am, and that’s why I can do the Carlyle now. I can do Woody Guthrie, Rodgers and Hart, my own songs, I can make people laugh. I was very somber for 20 years. I had my eyes shut, I was in another world behind that guitar, and I was not funny, believe me!

You started out at a time when young people felt they could save the world with a guitar and a song.

I think that from my early years I had a passionate anger. We were raised radical, we were raised activist, we were raised to think that one person could make a difference. That was all there when I picked up a guitar. There were a lot of reasons to be mad then. I had a lot of opinions and a lot of anger, and I still do.

Do you see any similarities between Vietnam and Iraq?

Both terrible mistakes, with devastating consequences, not only to the other countries involved but to us personally. The arrogance, the loss of diplomatic avenues, faith, integrity. Both outrageous. Un-thought-out. Tragic. For all the people whose lives have been lost, for all the people who are damaged and wounded, and for their families, it’s incalculable.

Judy Collins plays Café Carlyle Tue 13–Mar 2.