Note to self:  If you are ever again allotted 15 minutes for an interview with Judy Collins, be sure to have on hand a machine that bends time.

Note to self:  You heard right. She did say, “Our problems are all crafted to help us individually.”

Note to self: You can believe someone is actually as positive as this person sounds.

Sitting trying to transcribe the hastily scribbled notes from the telephone interview with Judy Collins, a writer can feel herself slide down the rabbit hole into another dimension—one where a woman sounding like an angel can speak in perfect clarity at double speed, speak of working constantly and achieving a balance in the process, and counsel viewing the Robert Klein television special as a way to spiritual peace.

But of course, it is not down the rabbit hole where one has traveled.  It is Over The Rainbow.

Over The Rainbow is a gorgeous children’s book just published by Imagine! Publishing,  a Peter Yarrow imprint (yes, the Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary). The book comes with a CD soundtrack sung by Ms. Collins, and it is possible to believe one is actually being transported to another dimension when listening to it. (That voice that is part bell, part clear mountain stream!) Turning the pages of this volume, stunningly illustrated by renowned French painter Eric Puybaret, you recall the farm in Kansas where you first heard of the longing to go where the clouds were far behind you, and revise that first vision into a more metaphysical one—no, actually a more mature one.

We are more mature now and so is Judy Collins, though she is quick to point out that she is (as the book credit describes her) still a dreamer. When asked what dreams she still holds, she doesn’t lose a beat before replying: “I dream of writing a Broadway musical. I dream of writing another novel. I want to write more and more and more of my own songs. I want to keep on singing . . . on and on and on and to never, ever retire.”

Later she confesses to larger ambitions. “I want to win the Pulitzer, the Booker! I think big . . . you have to.” In that, the listener doesn’t hear ego, or hubris, but enthusiasm, inspiration, a missionary spirit—a preacher believing in that place Over The Rainbow.  So the conversation returns to the book, and problems, and Judy Collins reminds you that one of the magical things here is that you read the verse first:

When all the world is a hopeless jumble

and the raindrops tumble all around.

Heaven opens a magic lane.

When all the clouds darken up the skyway

there’s a rainbow highway to be found. Leading from your window pane

to a place behind the sun,

Just a step beyond the rain.

So, while “Over The Rainbow” has always seemed like a song about longing, it starts out as a song about promise. And Judy Collins seems to have made herself a promise about this song, and a couple of other ones as well.

“ ‘Over The Rainbow’ was written in 1939, the year I was born, she says. “I was named after Judy Garland. I pretty much owed it to myself to record this song.” How fortunate that she was able to finally record it in conjunction with a groundbreaking children’s book. (The CD that accompanies the book also includes renditions of “White Coral Bells” and the lullaby “I See The Moon and The Moon Sees Me.”)

It’s eerily perfect that those of us who formed romantic images of the future while listening to Judy Collins sing “Suzanne” and “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Good-bye” have arrived at a time when we can give our grandchildren the singular experience of hearing her interpret songs we grew up with.

When reminded that she is identified with recordings of two songs that are actually anthems for more than one generation—“Both Sides Now” and “Send in The Clowns”— she comments, “You have to be careful in choosing a strong song. It will survive, and you may be singing it for five decades, as I indeed have with those. But remember, lyrics change moment by moment. Every performance is different and each is informed by how you are feeling. The song does not remain the same.”

It’s clear that this is not a woman who is interested in things remaining the same, though she believes in routine. “Paradise is balance,” she says. “It is vital to me to have each day include the things that sustain me. I must eat three meals, I must meditate, I must do my exercise. I must write in my journal, I must read something good for my mind. I must practice.” Then she mentions the importance of going out with friends and laughing. (Here’s where she counsels the Robert Klein television special).

She laughed often in this interview. It’s musical, her laughter, and in it is a sound not exactly earthly. Perhaps it comes from “Over The Rainbow,” always an enduring song, now a book, and something we have no trouble imagining will somehow be hers alone now that she has recorded it for this very special volume and on her newest CD, so aptly named for a place with which she seems very familiar: “Paradise.”

Tomorrow:  Part 2 of our interview, and a discussion of Wildflower, Judy Collins’s recording label, and her just-released CD, “Paradise.”

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  • Gregory Dexter August 18, 2010 at 2:57 am

    Those notebooks mentioned would make very interesting reading and should be published at some point…in my lifetime, if only!