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 theme¾
addressing the venality
and corruption at the center of the public order¾
resonated 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 was¾
given 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.
Don’t go out into the forest
There, among the green pines
You will find your brother,
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
The sun shines now when we’re
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.