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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  July 25, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT

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good evening from los angeles. a conversation with judy collins. she's recorded more than 50 albums. "a love letter to steven song hiem" craveings and her upcoming tour with long time friend. we're glad you joined us. a conversation with judy collins in just a moment.
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and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you. so pleased to welcome judy collins backing to this program. the grammy winning singer/songwriter. next week she begins her cross country tour with long time friend steven steels. an honor to have you back on this set. >> thank you. i'm so pleased to be here. i watch you from my home all the time. >> i thought about you a few months ago when i saw the news of the passing of leonard cohen.
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>> oh. yeah. we had a 50-year friendship, personal and musical and professional and it's a terrible loss. you know he came to see me in 1966 to play me -- he says i can't sing and i can't play the guitar and i don't know if this is a song and then he sang me "suzanne takes you down to her place by the river ♪ and that was it. >> how would you describe his 50? i'm laughing at his comment i don't do this, i don't -- but what he did he did remarkably well. >> well, he was a genius and a monk. a combination which is unbeatable, i guess. and he never stopped writing great things. when i'm going out with steven steels on this tour in chicago
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next week and one of the songs we're singing is a song of leonard's called "everybody knows." and it's perfect for the political times we're in. he never stopped. of course he had intention of stopping. he didn't want to really continue to go out and he pretty much stayed up on the mountain outside of los angeles meditating with his guru. his roeshy and then he lost all his money because his business manager ran off with it in one way or another it was gone. and so he had to go back out and that's when suddenly the world knew they'd finally gotten the chance to go see leonard cohen. he was amazing and not just a great artist. but a generous artist. somebody who was a friend of mine in every way. he introduced me to all his best girlfriends that are still on the planet are still good girlfriends. that's a sign of a true friend.
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and i pushed him on the stage. he didn't want to sing of course. and i was doing a big concert and i put him on stage. i said you have to sing in public because people now know your songs since i've recorded them but they want to hear you sing "suzanne" and he said no, i can't do that. and he sang and wonderfully and from then on he sang in public. >> the it rest is history. >> yep. >> you memsntioned the song, everybody knows, that you'll be singing on the tour. you and steven starting in chicago you mentioned next week. but you used the phrase perfect song in these political times. i'm going to ask this question. you finish the sentence. so everybody knows what?
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>> the war is over and the good guys lost. and the fight is fixed and the poor stay poor and the rich get rich. those are the lyrics. that is the truth. leonard always told the truth and he was also the smartest man i ever knew because he was smart enough to die the morning of the election. i said that's my guy. >> i'm out of here. >> and of course left us with his last album which is you want it darker. he was a wise, deep soul. >> you are good friends with bill and hillary clinton. their daughter chelsea is named -- >> well, i was told by the clintons. i first met them in 1991. when he was actually still
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governor of arkansas. and they came to see me and he said we named our daughter chelsea after your version of chelsea morning. i always think when they see joni mitchell they tell her the same thing because -- >> because they're the clintons. >> they're diplomats. >> that's funny. so very quickly. since i know you were so vocal in your support of hillary during the campaign and you just referenced this song. how are you processing these first six months? >> oh, god. yeah, yeah, one astonishing violation of the rule of law, the way we normally live, the ideas that we hold close after the other. every day it's a violation of one of those things i thought --
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some rule i thought was never going to get broken, certainly in high office. you don't know what to expect. take a deep breath and roll with it and hope to god the people that know what they're doing do what they know how to do. >> i'll leave it right there then and switch gears to the music. this project, a love letter to steven songheilm", tell me about this project. >> actually, i didn't know who he was in 1973 and i thought i would have to learn the dance then because donna somers was marching up the charts in her skirt and heels. and that was the time i mentioned that leonard had introduced me to a couple of his good friends and his friend, nancy becall called me five or six years after i'd met leonard
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and she said i'm going to bring you a vinyl, an album of -- >> what's that? >> you know we're putting out a final of our new album. everybody's doing it now. this is the hot thing to have a vinyl record where you can see the picture. so she brought me this and said i want you to play this song and i put the needle on the cut and i played send in the clounz. i have letters from him saying thanks so much for my first top 10 record single and then for about -- well, for 25 years i've wanted to make this album, this tv special and thank you god for pbs and you on pbs and all of us and they gave me the green light
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and said okay it's time and so i recorded it in colorado with an orchestra and it was on this spring and i hope continues to be on pbs. >> oh, trust me they'll be running it and running it and pledging it. >> the more money pbs makes, the happier i am. >> that makes two of us. a wonderful project and i'm glad you did. the most recent project i'm anxious to talk to you about is this new book, craveings. how i conquered food. i knew a bit about your past and the drinking and the food and all that. we talked a bit about that in our previous conversations but i didn't knoethe extent to which you struggled until i gaet got a chance to get into this. >> they say sugar is the gateway
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drug and i had a sugar addition from the time i was very young as most of us do and it developed into an eating disorder. it was a dance with alcoholism. they work well together i must say. one helps the other out i guess. so for decades i was back and forth going on various diets trying to get things together. trying to find out how crazy i was or if i should be locked upory how i could handle this. these are mental illnesses, by the way. they're not just moral weaknesses. they're really issues that drive you crazy. and so over the years finally i got sober 39 years ago. and then i was able to really deal with the food issue and over the years i found a solution which i write about in this book. it's very simple. and this diet business in this country is about a $38 billion business. and growing and people are --
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and i've been on all these diets. >> every diet you've ever done you write about in the book. >> i do and i do little biographies of the diet gurus starting with atkins and jean who started weight watchers. i called her up in florida, found her down there. she was in a home before she died. she sounded like she was 17 years old. hi, nice to talk to you. and i said well, i'm a fan of you and i wanted to know how you knew you had to have a group. because shy started in 1961. and she said i was a fat woman with fat friends and we should all get together and talk about it and work it through. so i wrote about a lot of diet gurus and my basic message is and you do get to the solution after you go through all the
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chapters about my life and these diet gurus who are fascinating. i even wrote about tarno who was shot by his girlfriend, his mistress. i don't know what you would call her. they were lovers for a while and he left her and she got mad and shot her. >> sadly. >> but then i realized the bottom line is grain, sugar, flour, corn and wheat. can't have them. and that's where i got my recovery. because without those things i don't have any craveings. that's why i called it craveings. the other word was how i conquered the food. >> i got you. >> it's a struggle. >> i've been doing this show 14/15 seasons in and we've had
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to bleep out a number of these things on this show. i think this is the first time ever. i love the self bleep. >> they bleep me and the publishers self bleep me. they wouldn't lete me do that. anyway, there's hope. that's what's so good and some of the peopleal running. the guy who wrote wheat belly understands that. anyway the main thing is i'm happy, healthy, well. no problems for about nine years i've been completely absent on this particular direction and i just wanted to share. i wanted people to know there is hope. it's not this frantic looking for the next book and the next diet and paying all this money. i did it too. so that's my -- that's my hope
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that someone will read it and feel they have a chance to get well too. >> let me talk about the food first. maybe ethe alcohol will come up on the food front. how did the craveings and the struggle with those craveings impact your artistry, the performance? >> good question. i grew up in an addictive family. alcoholism, some food addiction of some kind and i also got in my dna i got something a lot of us have. i think i see it in many people. i think you probably have it too. there's a work ethic that goes on no matter what's happening. it's a drive and frump the very beginning. i was 19 and i was an alcoholic and i knew i had to work and i've always been passionate about what i do. i love what i do.
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i do 130 shows a yearb, i travel, i write books, because that machinery is in there in my system. and so no matter what i was doing. until the end and the it end was i was doing when i was drinking and couldn't stop. so it finally catches up with you and i think the last three or four years everything i was doing had caught up with me. and even when i got sober i still had the issue of the food to deal with but thank god i got lucky. i found people who knew. i went into treatment for the drinking. but all the while -- i don't know when i haven't been planning my next record. it's something that's so wonderful and in a way it works even when i'm not at my best.
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so that was my good fortune to have that kind of -- my dad used to drink a lot and in the morning he'd wake up happy. he never missed a job. he was on a radio show for 30 years. he was singing, smiling, except when he wasn't later on in the day. but that is something also all my life in the beginning as a kid i had to be disciplined, i had to practice. i pract this is piano. i was a concert pianist for some of those years. that was sort of part of my good fortune because when i started to have a career that has thank you allowed me to make a living and reach people with music and i think music is service. i think people need live music desperately just to get through
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this life. i watch your show a lot because so many of the people you have on the show talk about how they got through tough things. how they manage to stay around and i think what they give, they give back. so i've been lucky in that sense and my had health is good. i've had a lot of struggles but i'm fortunate i have some kind of good health. >> see i'm just reveling in the comment you made a moment ago because you know how much i love music, all types of music. i just love it. and i love it in part because every one of us has a sound track to our lives. and i can't imagine living -- quite frankly i wouldn't want to live if i couldn't have music. my life would be so empty and hollow if i didn't have music on the sound track. >> i think when i'm doing a
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concert first of all i'm going through a kind of meditative state. i'm thinking about memories. i'm thinking about -- one of the great actresses of the century said i can do my grocery list. i'm dreaming. i'm remembering lovers, friends. and all the people in the audience, they're doing the same thing. they're on their own sound track of their own memories. and it's very healing because it's hard in this time when we're all connected with our devices. it's hard to be quiet in a place where you're listening to something beautiful and you have a time to reminisce, to think, the meditate, to dream. it's a real privilege to be in the audience and be able to do it. going through the same or similar status of being now kind of made aware of the very moment
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that you're in and that's part of why it's so powerful. >> what do you make of the fact your instrument has held up? because that's the thing that boggles my mind when i hear you. i'm juxtaposing what i'm hearing with the struggles i know you have had and your instrument has held up. >> i got very lucky in 1965 i'd already made four, five, six records. and i started to lose my voice all the time. i'd sing a little bit and it would be gone. i asked h his musical director he could recommend a teacher and i asked someone in lennox mass if they could recommend a teacher and they both recommended the same guy.
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it's a short story. i had just moved to the upper west side. i called him and said please, please everybody recommends you. he found out what i did and said you people aren't serious and no. i begged and pleaded. i got down on my knees and made a fool of myself and he said okay. i didn't know where he lived. i walked out my front door, turned right, past the elevator and walked on his door. and i studied with him for 32 years and he taught me what to do. >> that is a short story and a short walk. >> very short walk. and that's really why i can sing the way i can. i know that. i've had a lot of problems but i'm very fortunate because i found the right teacher. >> you mentioned being on stage and having these reminiscences
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about your life and former lovers, etc., etc. so for those of yours who have been fans for years, we know you and steels were an item back in the day. what is it to be on stage starting next week with steven steels who you dated back in the day and known forever but you never toured together? >> we met in 1968 in l.a. i was making an album called who know wheres the time goes and he was playing and we had this mad affair. i say the rumors lasted longer than the affair. of course the song he wrote for me. but we always remain friends. there was a time when i would run down to florida to get together with him but we've always remained friends and during the past 10 years i go see them, we'd start talking and i know his family, his kids, his
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wife. we've always remained friends. and we started talking about what would it be like to do a show on tour? and we'd send lists back and forth with songs. as you know, publicly there's been sort of a decision not to work anymore. so it was time and so we've been working on this for a few months. we made a record. it's called everybody knows. steels and collins. and we go out sometime, the 26th is our first concert together with a wonderful band at -- >> it's a great venue. been there many times. are you excited, scared or both? >> all together. yes. i wake up in the middle of the night guying what? and then of course we have
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rehearsals and i think my god this is everybody's dream, including ours. and it's so interesting because we're both so public and let's say our relationship was very much a fact of the social context in which we lived of the '60s and all the people that were together in those days and coming out of that to have something that's lasting, that's a friendship. >> i got a minute 1/2 to go. i could talk to you for hours and days you know. >> i know. >> i really am curious to your response and that is what is the trick? and i don't want to use the word trick but what is the methodology for remaining friends with former lovers? that's such a vital thing and some of us just can't seem to master that. >> well, i think it's hard. things are said which cannot be
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unsaid. but it's been lucky, most of the people i've been involved with i'm still friendly with. even the guy who walked out on me. he sent me a video of his hip replacement recently. >> life goes on. i don't know what the secret is and i couldn't bare to let go of certain people i had liked and for whatever reason we were together. but i'm happily married to a wonderful man i've been with. >> i'll leave it right there. if you're in chicago you've heard her say rivinia. a love letter to steven.
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a her new book "cravings how i conquered food." judy collins, i love you. >> i watch you all the time. >> i love you for that. >> thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. ♪ >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at >> join me to next time as we take a deep dive into what's happening round the country. that's next time. we'll see you then.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you.
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