Judy Collins was fifteen years old when she heard the song that would change her life – “The Gypsy Rover,” a traditional folk ballad about doomed love. After one listen, Collins abandoned her dreams of being a concert pianist to pursue folk music. It turned out to be a good choice, as Collins would emerge as one of the brightest stars of the folk movement of the 1960's, singing hits like “Both Sides Now” and inspiring Stephen Stills’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” In her candid and evocative memoir, “Sweet Judy Blue Eyes,” Collins gets personal about the her struggles with alcohol and depression, her many romantic relationships, and her enduring faith in the power of music to make the world a better place.
But the book is just as compelling for the many famous names that crescendo in irresistible cameos, from Janis Joplin telling her, “one of us is going to make it. And it’s not going to be me,” to Michelle Phillips remaining impossibly glamorous even when they took acid together. Collins, who has written several previous memoirs, knows just how to hook a reader with a combination of gossip, insight, personal revelation and first-hand cultural history. In Biographile's Behind the Books series, she answers our questions about her effortless process. (For an encore, scroll to the bottom to listen to our very own Judy Collins Spotify playlist)
What’s your writing routine?
I write at my desk or on my bed in the morning when I am home for two hours if I am working on a specific book or project -- on the plane when I am flying and on tour, in other words, everywhere, all the time!
What writers have influenced you most?
Melville, Camus, Flannery O'Connor, Anais Nin, Stieg Larsson.
What book are you currently recommending?
Robert Caro's "The Path to Power"
Read any great biographies or memoirs recently?
"Catherine the Great" by Robert Massie
What classics would you read if you had all the time in the world?
Plato and Shakespeare
It’s said that people either read to escape or read to remember. Do you fall into one of these groups?
I read to live.
What writers - dead or alive - would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?
Stieg Larsson, Erik Larson, Josephine Tey, Charles Dickens.
What’s next on your reading list?
"America's Great Debate" by Fergus Bordewich
According to Faulkner, writers need experience, observation, and imagination. Do you use all three equally, or rely on one over another?
I live a lot in the past -- and think about the future. All experience folds into the writing, whether songs or prose. Since I write memoir, memory, old letters, [and] talks with surviving relatives play a part -- and my own imagination.
Judy Collins Spotify Playlist