After having supper together last night, my friend Franklin Abbott told me he was treating me to an after-dinner surprise. As we climbed into Franklin’s car, I didn’t find out until we parked it a few minutes later where we were going: to a performance at the nearby Variety Playhouse.
The line waiting outside was long and distinctly non-young, but I didn’t learn until we got into the theater who we’d come to hear. Making our way through the packed house, we miraculously located two seats gratifying close to a beautifully lit stage, furnished only with a grand piano. Eventually, onto that stage steps one of the most iconic and beloved singer/songwriter legends of Franklin’s and my youth, Judy Collins.
Now an astonishing 74 years old, Collins’ voice remains as gloriously pure and mesmerizing as I remembered her from the still-vivid soundtrack of our college days. The album I’d bought in 1968, Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, has been stored in my attic for the past 20 years, and is surely unplayable by now, just like all the other albums from those fondly-remembered times. After last night, I am going to need to buy the CD version of Time Goes so I can listen to That Voice more often.
Like the deeply imprinted voices of Joan Baez, Laura Nyro, Peter Paul & Mary, Bob Dylan, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Leonard Cohen, Simon & Garfunkel and so many other talented singers and songwriters from that era, the sheer quality of Judy Collins’ voice and the excellence of her lyrics (either hers or the songs written by others that she chooses to sing) always stop me in my tracks. Listening to her again all these years later makes me grateful to have been young in the 1960s, as my life then included the wonderful music she made. Although I also regard myself as fortunate in terms of the dance music being played during my dancing days, the music of Collins, Baez, et al. were songs to listen to rather than to dance to: rich with poignancy and/or politics, songs whose lyrics not only helped form some of my core values but would stick in my memory the rest of my life.
It would be very difficult to describe the particular qualities of Collins’ voice to someone who’s never heard Collins sing. However that voice is described, there’s no disputing its ethereal, crystalline beauty. Just how gorgeous is that voice? Well, one measure of its caliber is that Collins’ renditions of “Amazing Grace” are the only versions of that ubiquitous hymn that I can listen to with actual pleasure.
This morning I extended the aural treat of last night’s concert by poking around the Intertubes for more about Ms. Collins and her career. Along with the biographical information in the Wikipedia article, I found snippets of various interviews and segments of various live performances, tons of wonderful photos of this beautiful woman, and, best of all, copies of her most well-known recordings (here and here and here).
A well-spent Saturday morning…not to mention a memorable Friday evening. Thank you, dear Franklin!