JUDY COLLINS SINGS LEONARD COHEN



The source of the following text is the autobiography of Judy Collins. (Pages 145-147 of the hardbound edition or 144-146 of the paperback edition). Thanks to Rudi Schmid (Berkeley) for this information.

"I met Leonard Cohen in 1966, when my Canadian friend Mary Martin arranged for us to meet. Leonard had been a published and successful writer and poet for many years, and had recently written his first songs. He came down from Canada one night, and I listened to his songs in my living room.

He sang Suzanne and Dress Rehearsal Rag that night, sitting on the couch, holding the guitar on his knee. I was moved by his singing voice, and by the songs, and by his whole presence. There was something very ethereal and at the same time earthy about his voice. When Leonard sang, I was entranced. I became immediately devoted to him, and we soon were friends.

I often saw Leonard when he came to New York. He would check into the Chelsea Hotel on Twenty-third Street, and we would have tea together and walk around Greenwich Village. I recorded Suzanne and Dress Rehearsal Rag on In My Life in 1966, and it went gold in 1967. With the records's success, Leonard became known as a songwriter.

I suggested he make his debut and sing in public, but he was terribly shy.I knew once he got over his fear, he would be powerful on stage. I was going to appear at a concert for Sane against the Vietnam War at Town Hall, on April 30, 1967. I asked Leonard if he would sing Suzanne there.

"I can't do it, Judy, I would die from embarrassment."

"Leonard, you are a great writer and a fine singer, people want to hear you." He finally agreed, reluctantly.

When I introduced him, he walked onto the stage hesitantly, his guitar slung across his hips, and from the wings I could see his legs shaking inside his trousers. He began Suzanne, with the hushed audience leaning forward in their seats; he got halfway through the first verse and stopped.

"I can't go on," he said, and left the stage, while the audience clapped and shouted, calling for him to come back. "We love you, you're great!" Their voices followed him backstage, where he stood with his head on my shoulder, my arms around him.

"I can't do it, I can't go back." He smiled his handsome smile. He looked about ten years old. His mouth drew down at the sides, he started to untangle himself from his guitar strap. I stopped him, touching him on the shoulder.

"But you will," I said. He shook himself and drew his body up and put his shoulders back, smiled again, and walked back onto the stage. He finished Suzanne, and the audience went wild. He has been giving concerts ever since.

I have loved and recorded so many of his songs--Sisters of Mercy, Joan of Arc, Priests, Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye, Famous Blue Raincoat, The Story of Isaac, Suzanne, Take This Longing, and Dress Rehearsal Rag [she forgot Bird on the Wire]. His songs carried me through dark years like mantras or stones that you hold in your hand while the sun rises or the fire burns. They kept me centered as I stood in front of thousands of people, my eyes closed, my hands around the neck of a guitar, my voice singing his ethereal lyrics. The audience responded to his writing, the songs were like water to a person dying of thirst. They were songs for the spirit when our spirits were strained to the breaking point."

From Judy Collins: Trust your heart: An autobiography. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, 1987, ISBN 0-395-41285-4 (hardbound), no index. Paperback reprint: Fawcett Crest, New York, Feb. 1989, ISBN 0-449-21662-4 (paperbound).


Judy Collins released in October 1997 a very well-done 2-CD retrospective (with one remake and sev-eral new songs) called Forever: An anthology (Elektra 62104-2). The CD is essential to fans of folk music because many of the 35 songs are covers (Joni Mitchell's Chelsea morning is a 1997 remake; there is one reissued Bob Dylan song, Masters of war, an excellent cover by Collins).

With regard to Leonard Cohen, the CD has reissues of her previously done Cohen songs Suzanne and Bird on a wire. The booklet states about Cohen (there are no pictures):

"I think of great songwriters as Gods and Goddesses. Bringing me gifts, as surely tagged with my name as though they had been written especially for me. I hunt, searching for the best. Sometimes I get lucky. That year [1965] my friend Mary Martin introduced me to Leonard Cohen. He had written his first songs, and played me Suzanne and Dress Rehearsal Rag. The songs were stunning, and I recorded both.

Leonard, a published poet and novelist, was very shy and nervous about singing in public. He had a quiet, tucked-in voice. He said he wasn't a singer, but I knew he was. That fall I convinced him to go on stage at a benefit for WBAI [a New York City radio station]. He was petrified, but he tried. On stage he began to sing Suzanne, stopped in the middle, looked out at the audience, and walked into the wings. I got him to return, with me, and we sang the song together.

Leonard has become in later years one of the great performers, an intelligent, poignant artist. I am always honored that I was there to sing his songs first. Altogether in the Elektra years [on albums released 1966-76] I recorded ten songs, among them Priests, Sisters of Mercy, Blue Raincoat, and Bird on a Wire. I am mad about Leonard's writing (from pages 8-9).

Later on page 9: One night over dinner in New York after In My Life [in Nov. 1966, the first Collins album with covers of Suzanne and Dress rehearsal rag] came out, Leonard told me I should be writing my own songs. Leonard is the type of guy when he tells you to do something, you at least try it." (Thanks to Rudi Schmid for the info)

"That was one of the first concerts I ever went to, and one of the best. Judy Collins & Leonard Cohen, but also Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Patrick Sky, and The Mitchell Trio, if memory serves. My sister got John Denver's autograph after the show, she still has it. The way I remember it, Cohen walked off stage twice. It was only on the third try that he got through it, with Collins." (From Gerry Myerson)


Leonard Cohen's songs
recorded by Judy Collins

"In my life" (11/1966)
Suzanne
Dress rehearsal rag
"Wildflowers" (11/1967)
Sisters of mercy
Priests
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye
"Who knows where the time goes" (11/1968)
Story of Isaac
Bird on the wire
"Living" (11/1972)
Joan of Arc
[Famous] blue raincoat
"Colors of the day: The best of" (11/1972)
Suzanne (same version as in 1966)
"Bread and roses" (8/1976)
Take this longing
"So early in the spring" (7/1977)
Bird on the wire (same version as in 1968)
"Both sides now"
This European compilation (Duchesse CD352132) from 1991 contains five of the covers (original versions taken from her albums):

Sisters of mercy (2:32)
Bird on the wire (4:37)
Priests (4:55)
Story of Isaac (3:32)
Hey, thatís no way to say goodbye (3:34)
"Forever - An Anthology" (10/1997)
Suzanne (same version as in 1966)
Bird on the wire (same version as in 1968)


Update 2004

All these songs and three more have been released on her 2004 tribute album Democracy: Judy Collins sings Leonard Cohen


Connect with the official Judy Collins page or
the Judy Collins page of Richard L Hess



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