Is she giving him a peck on the cheek, or whispering of her love into his shell-like? It’s so difficult to tell. But one thing is quite evident. Back then they were so young, as we all were – so very young. And they were so much in love.
My beautiful, talented daughter and I were sitting in a favourite watering hole a few weeks back, shooting the breeze about music – as is our wont. I was telling her how pleased I was that she had recently purchased a box-set of the remarkable Go-Betweens, a favourite of days gone by. She was informing me of a newly formed fascination with the Smiths and Morrissey. Then she said something that quite surprised me – that she was also getting into her.
Once upon a time I was so very into her too – but in the decade it occurred I knew nothing of her relationship with him. It was much later that I connected the dots. It was all so long ago, their romance – back in 1967, just before the ‘Summer of Love’. Their time together lasted just two years – then she was swept off her feet by, of all people, Stacy Keach. He took her away from him and he was devastated. He had lost his ‘chestnut brown canary’, his ‘ruby-throated sparrow.’ It happened just as he had written his special song for her – had laboured over it for months. When he initially played his first demo of it to her, it was far from the finished product – the version of it that would appear on his group’s first album. It was important to him that she liked it. A decision had soon to be made as to whether he and his band-mates would perform it at what was to be only their second live performance. It was. The planned gig was an open-air affair on some farm field near a small upstate New York town called Woodstock. He knew, deep down when he penned the lyrics, that all was not well between she and him. He sensed there were rocky times on the way. At that stage he didn’t know of her other suitor. All that didn’t make it any easier, but at least the words poured out of him.
Much later on she would write, ‘Stephen came to where I was singing one night on the West Coast and bought his guitar to the hotel and he sang me…the whole song. And of course it had lines in it that referred to my therapy. And so he wove that altogether in this magnificent creation. So the legacy of our relationship is certainly in that song.’
That ‘much later’, approaching more recent times, also occasionally involves them appearing on stage together – not so difficult as they had being seeing a bit of each other. She had, as well, become good mates with his wife. One such time was a Q and A event where the obvious topic of that song would come up. He is now sixty-eight and quite hard of hearing, but together with his fellow musos from back in the day, Graham and David, they still perform a set or two together in public. Sometimes they even sing the song – and it still hasn’t lost any of its magic. The punters are always pretty appreciative of it. The tune has stood the test of time and the royalty cheques for it still roll in – handy, as well as a reminder of the glory years that, as a solo performer, although he does okay, it is impossible to recapture. Also one can never fully recapture youth, but up on stage that night, she was still radiant – despite her years. She had a twinkle in her eye and as always at such events, mischief on her lips.
She recalled that, after he sang the song for her again, the more polished version, in her hotel room, her heart melted and she made promises she knew she could never keep. The stately singer, now well into her seventies, surmised that she was too far gone into her relationship with Keach, by that time, to go back to the songsmith. As well, she knew, she had a love affair with the bottle to deal with – thus the therapy. It was a tough time for both of them all round. But out of the disintegrating partnership came a song, one of the great paeans to love and longing for which our musical heritage is all the richer.
With their renewed friendship he bears no ill-feelings. There’d be no point. He still thinks about how, out of such a personal mess, something wonderful emerged – so much so that up on stage that evening he turns to look at her. He notes she still possesses those all-enveloping blue eyes he so adored back in the sixties – still does, if truth be known.
As he watches, on that New York night, she is telling the audience that she hasn’t heard the song performed live for going on forty-five years. She was rhapsodising to them about how it was such a romantic tune and that she still loved it – so much so that her autobiography bears its title. She informs how chuffed the man sitting beside was when she communicated to him that decision. Now that they have reconnected, she reckons there is a good chance they may even get together to do an album – maybe, perhaps, we’ll see.
When the spotlight turned back to him, it caused him to cease his reverie of her and concentrate on the people out in front. He philosophised to his audience that, when you are young and love comes calling, you fall so hard and so continually wear your heart on a sleeve. He likens it to Taylor Swift’s recent cathartic album of tunes about her break-up and he claims, ‘You know who she’s singing about and it really doesn’t matter.’ He looks again towards his old love and tells her how touched he was about about how tenderly she described their years together in her tome. Then Stephen Stills paused, turns away from the crowd and towards her. With a slight tremor in his voice, he states, ‘I don’t know how to thank you for that song.’
Judy Collins, looks back at him and replies, ‘Nor I you.
CSN perform ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWvw_uZPGDA