Judy Collins“I never got involved with him romantically, thank you God – there is a God!”

As heard on The Ray D'Arcy Show

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Judy Collins is the reason why Leonard Cohen became a singer. Yes, that obscure Canadian poet thought he had a terrible voice until Judy convinced him otherwise, as she told Ray D’Arcy this afternoon.

The pair met in New York in 1966 when Judy was then the better-known artist, on the way to recording her 6th album. A mutual friend, Mary Martin, brought Cohen and Collins together at Cohen’s request. They talked all day, went for dinner then agreed to meet up the following day. Wracked with nerves,  Leonard played Judy something he’d been working on:

 “He said, ‘I can’t play and I can’t sing’ and he said, ‘I don’t know if this is a song’, and then he played me Suzanne.”

Cue sharp intake of breath from Ray D’Arcy, at the thought of Rock n’ Roll’s Lord Byron humbly auditioning one of his most memorable works. Cohen kept insisting he couldn’t sing or play the guitar. Judy told him he could:

“He said, ‘I have a terrible voice’. I said, ‘it’s not terrible, a little obscure, that’s all, it’s not terrible.’ ”

And so it was that Leonard Cohen launched his golden voice upon the world. Judy says the man himself always expressed his gratitude:

“The thing about him is that he always thanked me, and that shows character.”

The artistic appreciation was mutual. While Judy’s known for her interpretations of the work of other great artists like Cohen and Joni Mitchell, she took Leonard Cohen’s advice to her that day back in 1966:

“He asked me why I wasn’t writing my own songs, so I went home and wrote Since You’ve Asked. That was my first song. Mountain Girl, the one I sang you. I’ve never stopped writing songs ever since he asked me why I wasn’t.”

Judy Collins told Ray that she and the High Priest of Pathos never had more than a professional relationship. The reasons why remain unsaid, but she was pretty happy about it:

“I never got involved with him romantically: thank you God, there is a God!”

Straight off the back of a successful gig in Galway, Judy is preparing to perform in the National Concert Hall Saturday night. She has plenty of Irish connections, including an Irish grandfather. She sang for JFK along with the Clancy Brothers and she’s performed for the Clintons. Bill and Hillary told her they called their daughter Chelsea because of Collins’ version of the Joni Mitchell track Chelsea Morning. Judy’s not so sure about that:

“I think when they see Joni Mitchell, they tell her that too. Because they’re diplomats. You have to remember that they’re always politicians.”

And speaking of politicians, the 80-year old singer of folk songs and protest songs, the devotee of Woodie Guthrie and Che Guevara hinted at her take on the current US president. Ray asked Judy for the inside story on her fellow New Yorker, but as with her reasons for passing on romance with Cohen, she told Ray that her views about the 45th President will remain off-mike and off the record:

“Yes I have met him in New York, you know, when he was floating around with the hoi-polloi and so on and so forth. Yeah, we won’t talk about this, we’ll talk later.”

You can hear more about Judy Collins recording Send in the Clowns, how she survived the habits she acquired in the 60’s, her appearance on The Muppet Show, and much more in the full interview with Ray D’Arcy here.

Judy Collins performs with special guest Jonas Field in the National Concert Hall in Dublin on the 1st of February at 8pm.

Ruth Kennedy

© The Listener 2020

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