cover image Singing Lessons: A Memoir of Love, Loss, Hope, and Healing [With Music CD]

Singing Lessons: A Memoir of Love, Loss, Hope, and Healing [With Music CD]

Judy Collins. Atria Books, $25 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-671-00397-5

The sad truth about Collins's memoir is that the person for whom she seems to have written the book will never read it. The singer's son, Clark, committed suicide in 1992 after a long bout with depression and substance abuse, and every chapter ends with a Collins-composed prayer directly relating to his death. Otherwise, given her image as a confessional, heart-on-the-sleeve folkie, Collins tells her life story with vigor, candor and a surprising lack of sentimentality. She describes her alcoholism without apology, with a degree of forgiveness that seems to encompass not only herself but the memory of her addiction-tormented son. Collins's lack of self-absorption brings poignancy to her tales of growing up the daughter of a blind Seattle radio host, her interest in her seagoing ancestors and her fears that she contributed to her son's intense despair, while the tension between celebrity autobiography and letter to a lost loved one makes the book a disarming read. Perhaps her grave manner in discussing her son led Collins to the tasteful restraint with which she recounts her early glory days in Greenwich Village, when the likes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Jim Morrison were among her drinking buddies. Her reticence only adds to the dignity of this moving memoir. 16 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)