Famed folk singer’s candid memoir about her survival in the music business despite a 20-year battle with booze.
Although classically trained folkie Collins (Singing Lessons, 1998, etc.) may exude an angelic veneer of ivory-snow purity and Midwestern conservatism, this memoir should dispel any remaining air of innocence surrounding the woman who made Stephen Sondheim’s saccharine “Send In the Clowns” a top-10 hit. Collins was raised in a middle-class family in Colorado at the beginning of World War II. Her father was a blind radio personality with some modicum of notoriety. However, he was also a depression-prone alcoholic whose addictive personality got passed down to his musician daughter with full potency. Although this is as booze-soaked a memoir as any rock star could hope to write, Collins provides a panoramic view of a politically turbulent but creatively explosive bygone era. Along with telling the story of her own rise to prominence in the mid-’60s New York City folk scene, the author also places her life in its broader historical context. Readers will get a keen sense of the tenor of the times as Collins repopulates the Greenwich Village streets with all the vibrant characters and long-vanished performance venues that helped make that neighborhood famous. Though she married young, Collins soon became something of a notorious serial monogamist, zipping from one partner to another with striking frequency, even for the free-love generation: Collins shared a bed with everyone from an English professor to rock star Stephen Stills. Although the author is refreshingly forthcoming about her promiscuity, she never spends much time second-guessing her frequent and sometimes overlapping relationships with men. Up through her popular mainstream success in the ’70s, Collins continued her struggle with alcohol addiction and fragmented relationships until around 1978, when she finally found some grounding in her life.
Despite Collins’ tendency to lapse into high-toned idealism and compulsive name-dropping, this is a fascinating and even harrowing musical and personal reflection.