The Paula Gordon Show
Living Grace
Judy Collins' photo

Judy Collins

. . . singer/songwriter and author. Ms. Collins adds Sanity & Grace:  A Journey of Suicide, Survival, and Strength to her growing list of books. In the year she celebrated her 44th year of recording, Ms. Collins had 40 albums including a number with gold and platinum status, top-ten hits, and Grammy nominations to her credit. Her film “Antonia: A Portrait of a Woman” received an Academy Award nomination. She has started her own recording label, Wildflower Records, which features her own work and that of others.


Judy Collins first charmed the world with her music in 1959.  Her annual live performances stretch over four and a half decades and her walls remind one of a lifetime of gold and platinum hits. So how does she think of herself?  As a storyteller.

High on the list of stories Judy Collins wants to tell is that of suicide -- her own failed attempts and her son’s tragic success. She wants to break the taboo she says prevents people from talking about suicide.  The taboo, she found, makes the tragedy of suicide even worse. Any loss of a loved one is very difficult, of course, but she says in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the guilt, shame and horror that survivors of suicide experience make the experience quite different. When her son killed himself, she was astonished by the secrecy.

The challenge of mental, physical and emotional health and growth, Judy Collins believes, is how one answers the question, “How do you take a situation that’s happened in your life and make it work for you, instead of against you?”   Her own answer, looking hard at suicide, includes reaching out to other people who have lost loved ones to suicide or have considered suicide themselves.

In addition to simply listening to friends and acquaintances, she also is writing about suicide, challenging the secrecy by telling her own stories. It’s her way of helping us all come to terms with what she knows is very hard -- we have to learn to live life on life’s own terms.

So, Ms. Collins is embracing what she believes is a natural progression -- coming into a kind of renaissance of experience in her sixties, she says. It’s the time to begin to teach other people, as she is teaching her granddaughter.  (She’s delighted that her granddaughter loves singing with her, floored that the youngster knows all the words to all her songs.) It’s also a time of real appreciation and she’s eager for others to join her in putting what they know to work. Give the flavor of experience to one’s art, she counsels. She feels very lucky -- privileged, in fact -- to feel that way about her newest recordings, with more to come.

Luck is good, but don’t forget she was raised and trained as an interpretive musician to maintain her instrument, keep up her practicing, not tear her voice apart or lose her ability to play.  Living these lessons has allowed her to reach new heights, she says, as she sees others doing.

Shun the idea of “retirement,” she says, horrified by the thought of shutting down when you’re just about at the age when you can actually do some good. Teach.  Relate what is there in your life.  Share good ideas that might be done in easier ways than the way you did them. Judy Collins did. She started her own record company, “Wildflower Records,” which has given her the chance to reissue much of her life’s work while giving a boost to others, including the great, but largely forgotten musician, Jimmy Norman.  (“Wildflower” released his “Little Pieces” in 2004.)

All told, Judy Collins is hard at work living her belief: Change yourself, and you change the world.

[This Program was recorded August 6, 2004, in New York, New York, US.]

Conversation 1

Judy Collins introduces Paula Gordon and Bill Russell to her sense of the force of nature that comes along with personal tragedy.

Conversation 1 RealAudio6:09 secs

Conversation 2

We have to talk about the taboos surrounding suicide, Ms. Collins believes, talking about her son having killed himself. She distinguished between being depressed and being suicidal, then describes her own attempt at suicide when 14 years old. She compares the sense of loss that goes with all deaths of loved ones to the guilt, shame and horror that sets a death by suicide apart.  Choose potential counselors very carefully, she says, then explains why she felt comfortable writing about the profoundly personal subject of son’s death, and about suicide in general.  

Conversation 2 RealAudio11:42 secs

Conversation 3

When nobody talks about a suicide, Ms. Collins has found, the effects on a family can be devastating and gives examples.  She talks about addictions, including her own, then tells the story of her Singing Tree. The dialogue with her deceased son continues, Ms. Collins says, giving other examples of people moving past suicide in their relationships. The larger taboo against confronting any kind of death is considered.  Ms. Collins uses the 12-step program to answer the question, “How do you take a situation and make it work for instead of against you?”

Conversation 3 RealAudio10:34 secs

Conversation 4

Judy Collins compliments Paula & Bill on this program, applauding it as the kind of great radio she grew up with. Hugh Masekela (, another Guest, is cited for his joy which Ms. Collins says she relates to because she was raised with the idea that you take whatever happens, live a good life, try to do good and change the world for the better, be joyful rather than miserable and wake up saying, “Today’s another day and it’s going to be good.” She expands with the example of another Guest, former Senator Max Cleland (, and her own experience founding “Wildflower Records.” She demonstrates how one can come into a real renaissance of experience in one’s sixties.

Conversation 4 RealAudio11:06 secs

Conversation 5

After responding to Gerry Adams’ question, “What are you going to live for?” Ms. Collins talks about her lifelong relationship with the music of Leonard Cohen, having just rerecorded many of his songs which she has released as a new CD.  She speaks to the poetry from the 1960s and to the power of live music -- a “calling” -- then expands with experiences from her own four-and-a-half decades of touring. She relates her own sense of being a story teller to the stories told by the paperweights she collects.

Conversation 5 RealAudio10:32 secs

Conversation 6

Savoring beauty in her own art and collections and the art of others, she also recognizes the power of extremely simple environments, from personal spaces to the simplicity she now prefers when she is on stage.  Then she looks ahead.

Conversation 5 RealAudio5:12 secs


The gracious welcome Judy Collins extended to us as we gathered with her in her New York City home was gift. It was a special treat for us to savor gold and platinum albums (and CDs) of her records we (still!) have from our youth. We thank Judy Collins for the personal pleasure we have had in our growing friendship AND we thank her for all the GOOD she has done in the world.  Onward!

Ms. Collins’ staff and family -- including a very special cat and The Music Tree -- made sure that our time together was perfect.  They succeeded.

Special thanks to Katherine DePaul, President of Wildflower Productions, Inc.

Sanity and Grace is a Jeremy P. Tarcher book, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
 Visit Judy Collins' website for more on the many ways she is expressing herself as her Adventure continues.
We also recorded a program with Ms. Collins in November, 2000.
Roger McGuinn led the synthesis of rock with folk music in his years with The Byrds.
Another contemporary of Ms. Collins, Hugh Masekela used his music to help free his home, South Africa, from apartheid.
Janis Ian and Richie Havens made their names in the sixties and continue to extend their music.
In his bestseller A Million Little Pieces, and in the sequel My Friend Leonard, James Frey tells the often painful story of his addictions, his eventual recovery and his detour through Hollywood.
Boston psychologist Margaret Hagen warns that we don’t know as much about psychology as we would like to and frequently less than mental health professionals claim.
San Francisco Psychiatrist Richard Lannon tells how to change a life gone wrong and warns of the dangers of “self-help.”

Quick buttons

© 1997-2003 The Paula Gordon Show.
All materials contained on this website are
copyrighted by The Paula Gordon Show and may
not be used in any way without the express,
written consent of Paula Gordon.