In 1992, Clark Collins Taylor, the son of singer-songwriter Judy Collins, ran a hose from the exhaust pipe into his car, rolled up the windows and died of carbon-monoxide poisoning at age 33.
"I was heartbroken. I was beyond devastation. I wanted to die, to pack it in, to call it quits, stop in my tracks," Miss Collins, 68, writes in her latest book, "The Seven T's: Finding Hope and Healing in the Wake of Tragedy." Instead, she kept busy. She continued to perform and write songs and books and became a frequent speaker on suicide and loss. She has just released her 44th album, "Judy Collins Sings Lennon & McCartney,"on her own Wildflower Records label. She gives 50 to 80 concerts a year.
Miss Collins lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side with her husband, industrial designer Louis Nelson. We sit in her dining room amid a clutter of paintings, photographs, curios and Tiffany glass lamps both real and fake. She looks elegant in comfortable black pants and a black top that dramatically offsets the mane of upswept white hair and those famous blue eyes.
Her book, which starts with a chapter on "Truth" and ends on "Transcend," is a primer on coping with devastating loss. Why write a self-help book? Miss Collins tells me she turned to many for guidance in her own life.
"Actually, this is a book which addressed the area that I didn't find very much help with, and that's really why I wrote it," she says. "I wanted to write a kind of a practical guide to how to get through a catastrophic or unexpected and sudden loss as I had suffered from the death of my son to suicide."
Loss and surprise
Her son, who battled depression, alcoholism and drug abuse, had been sober for seven years when he relapsed. "One of the similarities in all of this kind of loss is surprise, unexpectedness, even if somebody is an alcoholic or if they have had other attempts. I was stunned because I somehow thought this could never happen to us."
Miss Collins, a recovering alcoholic herself, says she knew drinking to numb her grief wasn't an option. "I was sober by then about 13 years or 14 years, and first of all, I knew under any circumstance that if I were to revert to my former habits, I wouldn't make it." She says she drew strength from friends and family, meditation, therapy and her work. "I kept working. I didn't want to, but Joan Rivers told me I had to or I wouldn't survive. And she was right; I'm sure she was right," Miss Collins says.
Her new album includes her version of Beatles' hits including "Hey Jude," "Long and Winding Road" and "Penny Lane."
Before this, the 1960s chanteuse, who has interpreted scores of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan songs, had recorded only one Beatles song, "In My Life" in 1966.
"I've always been attracted to the music, and I wanted to record something that was really different for me," Miss Collins says. "Dylan and Cohen are very complicated, long songs in general. They're deeply intricate. They're either very wordy or very acrobatic in terms of music." In that way, she says, they're much like her own story songs.
The Beatles' songs "are so deceptively simple, but they're very intricately made, and they're like little jewels. Now my challenge is to go back into my own writing, see if I can write some simple songs. It's very tricky." Next on her wish list? A one-woman Broadway show about her life. "I've been working on it for a long time, but when it's time, it will happen and not before," she says.
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