Yesterday, WVFC ran Part I of our interview with Judy Collins: a discussion of her work on the new children’s book, Over The Rainbow. Today, the conversation turns to recording and her business life, her record label Wildflower, and her desire to support the artistry of others. (And we couldn’t resist a quick foray into fashion as well.)

Before getting to the interview portion of this article, let it be said that a mature audience couldn’t find a better role model than Judy Collins. A chance to talk with her is an opportunity to hear unvarnished vitality.  What was most surprising was the total clarity in each and every answer she offered. Someone with a voice like hers who has made musical choices such as she has—who actually describes herself as a “dreamer”—might be predicted to be someone who sounds “dreamy.” She most certainly does not. She sounds sure, as if her window looks out on a future as clearly perceived and easily grasped as the material success she has enjoyed and the applause she has generated in her now regular springtime ritual of performing at the fabled Cafe Carlyle in Manhattan.

To speak with her is to speak with a whirlwind of activity, someone who very definitely means to write her second novel (her first, Shameless, was a music business thriller), and who has guided many a reader through despair with her memoir, Singing Lessons, and her investigations into surviving the suicide of a loved one, The Seven T’s and Sanity and Grace.

She’s a businesswoman with the voice of a choir of angels. She’s a recording artist whose latest CD, Paradise, includes a duet of “Diamonds and Rust” with Joan Baez. She’s a wife and a seeker. She’s clearly special, but she has an everywoman quality as well. She knows what she knows and she is dedicated to that particular feistiness that Women’s Voices for Change loves to celebrate:  the belief that it’s always possible to know more.

“Both Sides Now” and “Send in The Clowns,” the two songs with which you are most closely identified, might be called songs of disillusionment.  Now, with the children’s book Over The Rainbow and the inclusion of that song on your new CD “Paradise,” aren’t you taking on illusion?

Illusion (laughs), belief, faith in something better. I’m very optimistic and future-directed.  I believe every day offers something positive to be had.

You are? You do feel optimistic about the future?

Oh, yes, I always have. I’m very positive, I got that from my family. My father was blind from age 4 and he was optimistic and hopeful, productive and positive until the day he died.  A friend of mine actually says, “Our problems are crafted to help us individually.”  I believe that too. I wouldn’t want anyone else’s problems but mine. I try to bring a positive attitude to every area of my life: my relationships, my singing, my writing, my business.

Speaking of your business, it’s interesting to see you as a businesswoman.  Clearly, your label, Wildflower, is an homage to your celebrated album “Wildflowers.” Are you thinking about legacy now?

I did want to honor the past while looking toward the future. With the Wildflower label, we want to offer a chance for artists who aren’t being recognized to be heard and to tour.  Every one of the artists on Wildflower records deserves to be listened to and to be seen.

You have passion about your business and your profession.

To be an artist is to be a revolutionary. Creating is a revolutionary act. It takes courage and it comes out of one’s political being. We are all political creatures. Our politics are our personal convictions and the way we live our lives. We can’t help but be political just walking around, and that should be with passion.

So, you are active politically no matter what you are doing?

Yes, of course. But I also believe we should have mandatory public service in this country.  I believe everyone should be required to do something for the greater good of society—required to enter a service to the country to identify with something larger than just our own individual concerns.

Being a performing artist is being in public service to a certain extent, isn’t it?

It can be, but we have to be careful. Artists are infantilized in our country—treated like children often. It’s endemic, and you have to resist that in order to do good work and to avoid terrible behavior.

We’ve talked about how you find balance by writing, by meditating, and by exercise. You clearly believe in discipline. You must need quiet and solitude as well.

Oh yes, there must be solitude in every day. And wisdom. Emerson says, “First we read, then we write.” I’m just getting around to reading some of the very important Big Books that I somehow missed. I just read Paradise Lost, for instance. So we need to put big thoughts in our minds, but we need to have room for emptiness too. I love that quotation, “You don’t have to be a Buddhist to know nothing.”

Can we end on a personal note?  If Judy Collins were dressing to look exactly like herself, what would she put on?

Easy! A simple black shirt, a pair of comfortable black pants, and a sleek black jacket that looks like water . . . and maybe a hat with a pin attached—my lily of the valley pin.  I think I’ll wear exactly that when I go out with friends tonight.

Take that image with you, readers—a woman in black with lilies of the valley peeking from her hat. Wildflowers and hope, eternal springtime on a plain backdrop. So fitting for a 71-year-old woman who is unadorned in her opinions and convictions, and so purely beautiful and hopeful in the midst of the muchness of maturing and going on.

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  • b. elliott August 18, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Wow! That interview package left me with so much to think about. I am going to send that on to my special girl friends distribution list. We have yet another role model. Thanks, Laura, for your insightful questions.