Tuesday, 1 April 2014

the unbelievable tragedy of judee sill

In David McGowans recently published and controversial book, Wierd Scenes Inside The Canyon, of all the rock star lives in and around Laurel Canyon in the 60's and 70's there are 3 pages on the little known singer/songwriter Judee Sill that standout as one of the most jaw-dropping accounts of any artist. In fact you could go as far to say of almost any musician there's been in the last 50 years.
The tragedy and torment of this woman's life began early in her years. At the age of 8 losing her father followed shortly after by her brother had led to her mother remarrying an "abusive and violent alcoholic". No surprise then that at the age of 15 Judee fled her home life, but took up with an older man who no doubt would have had a leading part in the pair of them committing several armed robberies.

What comes first, the crimes or the drugs and alcohol.
After a time in reform school for the crime spree she'd now arrived at a "serious heroin addiction" which naturally needed continual upkeep. End result, drug dealing and prostitution. She's not even out of her teenage years!
1963 and the 19 year old Judee has attempted to clean up and enroll in college for a fresh start.
But now her Mother dies, Judee's last remaining family member. And that begins her falling into more drugs and crime. Now she's arrested and "possibly serves time".
So now if there's a few years without the lure of dope it's quite possible she did serve a sentence, either that or her will to quit was more than remarkable, because by the end of the 60's and now in her mid twenties she was composing and contributing to the burgeoning Laurel Canyon scene, even selling a song to The Turtles.
There in Laurel Canyon there were stories of her bisexuality and of her interest in the occult. Although that's nothing new for 60's Laurel Canyon.
Within this new found community she fittingly signed for 'Asylum' records, there were a few living in the Canyon who also joined that label, and in 1970 released her first album and a single produced by Graham Nash (of Hollies and CSN&Y fame). Who she toured with supporting the new album.
The LP failed to sell after a badly timed release against The Eagles and Jackson Brown's albums also debuting on Asylum.
The second album was released but did worse. Some say she was sacked by label boss David Geffen after outing him "gay" on radio, others say it was for criticising Geffen for the lack of promotion.
Her 3rd album she abandoned before completion in 1974 and with that Judee Sill just disappeared.

It's said she had serious back trouble after a car crash and the drugs returned as a result to take the pain away.. or maybe just to forget the pain.
The cause of her death in 1979 was given as "acute cocaine and codeine intoxication". By the time of her death she was completely forgotten. There wasn't one obituary.

It's said her songs give little away of herself, and "She liked to talk in flowery metaphors, often with a veiled religious tinge to them".
Judee Sill's music is born of another age yet 1/4 million hits on this video say it's music that connects to many listeners today.
Here is a rare clip of her performing on the BBC's 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' in 1973. Host, Bob Harris makes mention after her previous visit to the studios, she'd said "Please buy my record so I don't have to open up for these snotty rock stars anymore", a likely reference to the touring with Nash and Crosby as their opening act preceding her first album.
As you see this diminutive and almost fragile looking woman sing her delicate formal songs it's hard to reconcile the song and the image with the tumultuous and ultimately tragic life she was to have.