(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)



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 elegance?

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

you hear
the whales!

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 bored."

"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 any further.

"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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