|My friend Cathy was able to navigate to two folded chairs in the front row to the left of the podium. “I think that’s her in the purple,” she said as she looked over by the door that led into the large room. A petite, rather eccentric-looking woman stood by the entrance. Her thin legs were covered with thick black tights that led into ankle boots with stiletto heels. She wore a peplum jacket with a large v-neck ruffle in a rich, satiny purple. Her white hair was stacked loosely in a bun on the top of her head. Her face was disguised by dark sunglasses.I watched her for a moment, then glanced at the portrait of a much younger Judy Collins on the cover of her new book, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music. I recognized the nose and mouth from the portrait on the eccentric small woman. “I think you’re right,” I said.|
|We were at the Books by the Banks Cincinnati USA fifth annual book festival where Judy Collins was billed as a star attraction. The six-hour event provided opportunities for book-lovers of all ages to meet authors like Chris Bohjalian, author of The Night Strangers, or Dennis Lehane, author of Moonlight Mile. Panel discussions were scheduled throughout the day on topics like Re-inventing the Classics and Regional Cooking. Earlier in the day Cathy and I sat in on the panel discussion, “A Guide to Writing and Ilustrating Children’s Books: Tips from Successful Authors and Illustrators.”|
|Andrea Cheng author of 15 published books for children and young adults including Where Do You Stay? spoke about her personal journey to traditional publication and gave out writers’ tips. Illustrator Christina Wald shared helpful suggestions to aspiring illustrators in the audience. I took good notes in case the earlier conversation with my industrial designer/artist son some day come to fruition in a Children’s Book project.|
|To be truthful, I wasn’t all that excited about seeing Judy Collins, and planned to forgo her panel discussion if it became too crowded or too much of a hassle. Sure, I loved her songs, and knew all the words when I was an impressionable teenager, but she wasn’t here to sing. She was here to talk about her book, which I felt rather ambivalent about. I guess my enthusiasm was tempered by a negative attitude from a struggling writer with no particular claim to fame. If I were a singer or dancer, or if I were an outspoken politician, then everyone would want to buy my books and I would have agents lined up at the door. Sometimes it seems like you have to be Stephen King or Sarah Palin to make it into a bricks and mortar bookstore.|
|I am happy to say that I completely underestimated Judy Collins’ power as a storyteller. I was completely captivated for the entire hour. When she stepped up to the podium and said, “Let’s just get this out of the way,” then started singing a cappella on perfect pitch, “Bows and flows of angel hair. . .” She sang the entire first verse of Both Sides Now, and I was completely engaged.Judy Collins told stories about her dad who became blind at the age of 4 and went on to be a musician in his own right.|
She talked about her fellow singers, writers and producers at the time her career took off in the 60’s, dropping names like Dylan, and Joan Baez. Carly Simon’s sister was her musical director at one point. She talked about the Vietnam War, and her alcohol addiction. She shared her perspective of how the music of the times influenced the people and events as they were happening. And every now and then she would break into a few lines of a song that she or someone else she was talking about had sung.
She described the first time she met Stephen Stills who she would have an on-again, off-again relationship with for years. Stephen Stills wrote the song, Judy Blue Eyes, from which Collins got the title for her book.
She said that she started writing Sweet Judy Blue Eyes in 2007 as she was approaching the age of 70.
Judy Collins was interesting, and she was funny. For a woman in her 70s, she still packs a lot of punch with her voice.
I was so completely entertained, I felt guilty that I hadn’t paid for this free event.