Here’s part of the real genius of Judee Sill. She writes exclusively in these grandiose, nearly-mawkish word pictures, full of cowboy Saviors and inter-dimensional portals, and with such earnest delivery. There’s nothing arch or playful in there, because it’s her way of talking seriously about the awful things in her life without discussing them head-on.
It’s not that I think Judee actually believes in a gun-slinging Jesus crossing prairies to romance her. I do think however, she sees evidence of deep magic in her world, but she laments not having the tools to access it. She’s tried to undo a lifetime of abuse and addiction, but come up short. “Magic rings I made have turned my finger green / and my mystic roses died.” It’s part self-preservation to remove her personal details from the discussion and partly a doorway for her audience. She speaks in a mythology that’s both highly idiosyncratic, but also so far removed from traditional frameworks of spirituality that it’s universal.
Judee Sill :: The Phoenix (from Live in London - The BBC Recordings 1972-1973)
One of my favorite things about this album of live recordings from Miss Sill is her penchant for soliloquizing between her songs. While Sill’s compositions are these glass-framed works of architecture, her speech pattern is this meandering, idiosyncratic mess pockmarked by filler words. But under all that clutter, there’s always something in her introductions that rings spot-on to me. For example:
"…uh, I took it off the first album, ‘cause I wanted to add some new stuff, and then I put it on the second album, ‘cause uh, as I was thinkin’ about it I thought, ‘This could really go for any time in my life,’ cause it’s kinda one of those songs that confesses that I never do quite get it right, youknowwhatImean?"
[If you haven’t taken the time to dive into Judee Sill’s catalog, seriously there is no time like the present. LetMeGoogleThatForYou.]
I know, I’ve posted enough Judee Sill here before, but I’m not going to stop until you’ve all purchased her discography (heh). This song came up in my shuffle during the cool-down of my run tonight. I had to stop and lean against the side of my house, this song hit so hard. I realize that it’s probably just where I “am,” and how dumb this Summer is.
Regardless, just look at what Miss Sill accomplishes in just three quatrains, an interlude, and a coda.
Lopin’ along thru the Cosmos, And sideways I slide thru the square, I’m hopin’ so hard for a kiss from God, I missed the sweet love of the air
A silver chariot soars Thru mercury ripples of sky, I’m lookin’ so hard for a place to land, I almost forgot how to fly
So keep on movin’, Or stay by my side, either way, I’ll tell you a secret, I’ve never revealed However we are is O.K.
From the liner notes of Judee Sill: Live in London (The BBC Recordings 1972-1973). Excerpted here are portions of a collaborative journal Judee kept along with her tourmate/lover, the folk singer David Bearden. Even without a complete backstory of Judee Sill's short and tempestuous life, the excerpts peel back the curtain to reveal the foreboding musings of two creatives in their prime, hinting at Judee's final downfall.
David: Today (January 20) Judee & I leave to tour England … Arrived in London … The streets seem to be full of beautiful tough young skinny people dressed fit to kill in the finery of the men of old …
Judee: Bought clothes, ate at Hiroko, and loved David a google or more today. Last night I had bad nightmares and threw up. David helped me. Today we are going to Portobello Road. I love David more and more desperately. I hope I don’t go insane …
David: In the trains (February 20) from Leeds to London drinking Courvoisier in coffee … Train passes cygnets on brimming canals … Plots of Brussels sprouts in backyards & we are pulling into what appears to be a bomb-damaged back end of London.
Judee: Last show: Oxford. David was wildly cheered again. I just returned to the Chelsea Cloister and David is out. I hope he is not getting drunk or carousing somewhere. I just did a radio interview and I told the whole truth … Most of it was about david and how great he is and how I worship and love him … I hope he comes home soon …
David: Judee & me smoking “Parson’s Pleasure” in the longstemmed churchwarden. Smoking a Player. Smoking opium. Smoking “cut golden bar” in the white clay pipe. Smoking a Rothman. Smoking too much, Judee …