06 February 2013


It was the song “Anathea” that struck me last night.
Almost fifty years ago on her first album Judy Collins sang that song and I remember (I think) being mesmerized by the power and clarity of her voice. And the song’s theme¾addressing the venality and corruption at the center of the public order¾resonated with my adolescent rage and rebellion. Along with Dylan’s version of “Seven Curses,” Judy Collins’ traditional ballad version of “Anathea” condemned the American system of justice without having to explicitly name it. The Civil Rights movement highlighted the violent racism that permeated our society; and the war in Vietnam, still in its infant stage, was a vague threat that troubled our rest. These songs spoke to our senses of disquiet and our feelings of outrage. Not metaphor but metonomy, “Anathea”, and other songs just like it, represented the generation’s attack on the system it condemned no less powerfully than did the Port Huron Statement in 1962.
And Judy Collins’ phrasing in the last verse announcing the execution of her brother almost as if it were a lynching (illogical though its sense was¾given the report in an earlier verse that in the bed of the venal judge Anathea had heard news of her brother’s death on the “gallows groaning”), made even more explicit how thoroughly rotten was the system of justice.
Anathea, Anathea,
Don’t go out into the forest
There, among the green pines standing
You will find your brother, hanging.
The cruel deception and abuse practiced by the immoral judge on Anathea represented a crime against us as well, and confirmed our suspicions about the system that was meant to protect us but was made to serve only to oppress and destroy.  
I had not remembered that song over these-almost fifty years, but as Judy Collins presented her own autobiography through the set of songs she had constructed, she recalled it to me. I saw myself as a sixteen-year-old adolescent (I was so much older then!) sitting downstairs in a friend’s bedroom listening to “Anathea” on that first (or second) album, arguing the particular merits and strengths of Joan Baez and Judy Collins as artists and representatives of our generation’s outraged voice, and feeling self-righteous and incorruptible and prepared to set right the ills that songs like “Anathea” described. It was so easy then to know wrong from right, and I was content and hopeful.
It was good last evening to join a part of my past to the present: Judy Collins didn’t wear the peasant dresses with which I had come to associate her, and the times they have certainly changed. Interestingly (at least to me) she did not sing a song by Bob Dylan, because her version of “Tom Thumb’s Blues” helped define that song for me. But her opening song, “Song for Judith (Open the Door)” opened my past.
I used to think it was only me,
Feeling alone not being free
To be alive to be a friend
Now I know we all have stormy weather
The sun shines now when we’re together
I’ll be your friend, right through to the end.
I felt last evening that I sat amongst friends, brought together by an old friend, and accompanied in my mind’s eye by one special friend.


Anonymous Barbara said...

Speaking of friends, you've been much on my mind as of late.

06 February, 2013 21:42  

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