Love, Friendship And Music: Stephen Stills And Judy Collins Collaborate On New Album

Nov 11, 2017
Originally published on November 11, 2017 5:41 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now we turn to a story of love, friendship and music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUITE: JUDY BLUE EYES")

CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH: (Singing) It's getting to the point where I'm no fun anymore.

MARTIN: Half a century ago, singer-songwriter Stephen Stills and Judy Collins fell in love. The romantic relationship only lasted two years, but the imprint of one on the other endured. After the couple split, Stephen joined the now legendary group Crosby, Stills & Nash. With emotions fresh from the breakup, he wrote what would become one of the group's biggest hits and what many call the best rock breakup song ever, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUITE: JUDY BLUE EYES")

CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH: (Singing) I am yours. You are mine. You are what you are.

JUDY COLLINS: (Singing) You make it hard (laughter).

MARTIN: And Judy Collins's career also blossomed. She was one of the most popular live acts of the 1960s and one of the female folk artists who defined the era with hits like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOTH SIDES NOW")

COLLINS: (Singing) I've looked at love from both sides now, from win and lose. And still somehow, it's...

MARTIN: So life went on. They each went their separate ways. And then a few years ago, they shared the bill at - a wait for it - AARP convention. And they decided to record an album together for the first time. It's called "Everybody Knows." They toured together this summer, and we are catching them just as the tour is winding down. They're with us from our studios at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Stephen Stills, Judy Collins, thank you so much for speaking with us.

COLLINS: You're welcome.

STEPHEN STILLS: You're welcome.

COLLINS: Thank you. Thank you.

STILLS: You missed a couple of steps, but (laughter).

MARTIN: OK. Yeah. There were a few 'cause - yeah. It's been a while, yeah.

STILLS: We never really lost touch with each other. We have a connection that's pretty otherworldly, so you don't let those things go.

MARTIN: Let's go back all the way. And like, who saw who first?

COLLINS: Actually, we have two versions of that.

MARTIN: Well, of course you do.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: I think we met as I was singing a song in John Haney's (ph) little house up near Griffith Park. And Stephen says that we met at the Whisky A Go Go.

MARTIN: So who was liking who first? I mean, tell, you know, tell the truth.

COLLINS: I didn't know him until he started playing the guitar on the session and then I just went crazy. You know, I was smitten. And so from that moment on, until this really, because when we started singing together to practice this album, Stephen said, well, we should have done this right from the beginning. We should have skipped the romance. But I said, well, but then you wouldn't have written "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

MARTIN: Well, talk to me a little bit about the song, Stephen, if we can still talk a little bit about it. I mean, it went on to be one of the biggest hits of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Not only that, you know, it's on the list of - in Rolling Stones', you know, 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. And, you know, why do you think it is such a great hit?

STILLS: That song is awesome and timeless. And it's a glimpse at all the ups and downs of knowing you're breaking up with them, actually breaking up and then, I wish we hadn't. And it's sort of inverted because the last part is almost like you're inviting her back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUITE: JUDY BLUE EYES")

CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH: (Singing) Can I tell it like it is? Listen to me, baby. It's my heart that's suffering. It's dying. And that's what I have to lose.

COLLINS: And it was very hard to hide from that song.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you that. I was going to ask you that. So you knew it was about you. And like - what - did people, I don't know, see you in the elevator and start singing? I mean, what the heck? What was that like for you?

COLLINS: I think everybody takes it personally in their own way. And everybody probably has some kind of similar experience emotionally if not actually. So it touches the heartstrings. And it turns the romance into a kind of a yearning for whatever it is that you're yearning for.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUITE: JUDY BLUE EYES")

CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH: (Singing) Doo (ph) doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo. Doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo doo.

MARTIN: Well, let's turn to the new record. Let's hear the title track now, "Everybody Knows." Let's play a little bit of that and then we'll talk about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERTYBODY KNOWS")

STILLS AND COLLINS: (Singing) Everybody knows that the dice are loaded. Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed. Everybody knows that the war is over. Everybody knows that the good guys lost.

MARTIN: So, Judy, this is a cover of the late singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen's song. This is a 1988 song of his. Would you talk about, you know, talk about your relationship with Leonard Cohen and how the song became the title track of this album?

COLLINS: I met him in 1966 when he came to me because of a mutual friend. And he came to my house, in my apartment. And I always say he knocked on the door, and I opened it. And I thought, well, he's so good looking. I don't care if he writes songs or not. But he, of course, did write songs. And he sang me three songs. He sang me "Suzanne" and "Dress Rehearsal Rag," which is the story of a rehearsal for suicide and a song called "The Stranger Song," which I've never recorded but I recorded the other two. And it put him on the map. And after his death, I started singing this. And I sent a little tape of it. I was doing it in the concerts that I do. And I sent a little tape of it to Stephen. And I said, what do you think? And he said, I think we should do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYBODY KNOWS")

STILLS AND COLLINS: (Singing) Everybody knows. Everybody knows that's how it goes. Everybody knows.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask. Each of you is married to somebody else now, but what do you think your coming together at this point in your lives represents? I mean, do you think that there's something - some meaning in it for people who aren't rock stars like yourselves? I mean, is it that, you know, let the past go? Or what do you think it is?

STILLS: Well, for me, I owed her big time. I owed her this for a long time. And we already knew that we could sing together. And then when we started actually trying and we sang unison together perfectly, I went, you realize how few people can do that? And we're also of an age where everything is OK. I mean, I can't imagine this happening 30 years ago.

COLLINS: Yeah. That's very true.

STILLS: We're both very opinionated.

MARTIN: Judy, what about you? What does the mean to you at this stage of your life? What does it mean to have had this opportunity to work with Stephen again?

COLLINS: It's a triumph of art and friendship over time. And it's also very important, I think, to hang on to the things that mean something to you. And they transcend time. And it doesn't - I think when it comes to nearly 50 years that we've known each other, you learn a lot about each other. I always say, in a sense, we're sort of in marriage counseling or couples therapy with this. Perhaps we should have done that in 1969, but who did that in 1969?

STILLS: Writing songs is much more fun.

COLLINS: Absolutely. Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, let me ask each of you to choose a song to go out on, unless you both agree on which song you want to go out on. And if you can't - and this is not a test - then you can each pick one. What do you think we should go out on?

COLLINS: Oh, I'll listen to what Stephen wants to hear because I want to hear it.

STILLS: Oh, I knew you were going to do that.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: That's why we get along.

MARTIN: "So Begins The Task," "River Of Gold," "Judy," "Everybody Knows."

STILLS: "River Of Gold," yes.

MARTIN: Want to do that? OK. We'll go out on "River Of Gold." That is singer-songwriters Judy Collins and Stephen Stills. Their album together, "Everybody Knows" is available now. Thank you both so much for speaking with us. It was too much fun.

COLLINS: Oh, thank you, Michel, we loved it.

MARTIN: Stephen, goodbye?

STILLS: Goodbye. Just play it all the way through.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Bye-bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RIVER OF GOLD")

STILLS AND COLLINS: (Singing) There was nothing back here in the old days, nothing but a river of gold. There was nothing blocking out the sight, nothing to be bought or sold. There were lakes of rainbows and cutthroats. You could walk for miles in the snow, didn't know a thing about the climate, watched the seasons come and go. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.