Across the Evening Sky

‘Across the Evening Sky’: The Late Voices of Sandy Denny, Judy Collins and Nina Simone

Below: pre-publication draft of chapter published in Gender, Age and Musical Creativity, edited by Lisa Colton and Rachel Haworth (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), 141-153.

In 2006, shortly before her sixty-seventh birthday, the American singer-songwriter Judy Collins undertook a tour of Australia and New Zealand, her first visit to the region in forty years. A number of press features and interviews accompanied Collins’s visit, several of which were still featured at the top of the ‘Press’ section of the artist’s website at the time of writing this chapter. One of the features, entitled ‘Who knows where the time goes?’ after one of Collins’s 1960s hits, presented a reflection on the artist’s career alongside observations on age and assertions of continued vitality.[1] Another, entitled ‘Gem of a voice shines on’, described some of Collins’s most successful performances, including her recording of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’. ‘Its harpsichord tinkling has dated’, wrote the journalist, ‘but Collins’ voice, warm and wise beyond its years, renders the song timeless’.[2]

I use these examples because they provide a foretaste of the themes of age, time and experience with which I wish to engage in this chapter, as well as a reference to the song upon which I will base my observations. The first aspect to note is the way in which an artist of Collins’s longevity can afford to leave her website out of date in terms of publicity; the fact that the featured stories are seven years old at the time of access matters little when considering an artist whose performing career spans more than five decades. Second is the way in which age has become a factor how Collins is discussed and promoted in the twenty-first century; it is both a calling card and a potential obstacle to overcome (seemingly not a problem for the age-affirming Collins). Third, and most important for this chapter, is the reference to the experiential mode of performing that the young Joni Mitchell tapped into in ‘Both Sides Now’, and which the ‘wise beyond her years’ Collins introduced to the listening public in 1967. The ‘timeless’ song performed an early sense of lateness, an anticipation of experience normally associated with older people but surprisingly common among young songwriters.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising to encounter such early lateness. As Kathleen Woodward observes, ‘Age is a subtle continuum, but we organize this continuum into “polar opposites”’, creating unhelpful distinctions between young and old, innocence and experience.[3]  Imaginations, actual experiences and representations of age and ageing bodies get folded into each other through public discourse and popular culture. As Andrew Blaikie notes, there may be no denying the irreversibility of time and age, yet ‘“Maturity” itself is a term capable of many and varied definitions and the biological is but one of these.’[4] Such observations are useful when considering the possibility for, and even prevalence of, anticipated lateness in popular songwriting and singing, where strategies for dealing with age, time and experience are a constant (as they are in life), allowing multiple stages of reflection and multiple opportunities to feel ‘late’.

Popular music artists, as performers in the public eye, offer a privileged site for the witnessing and analysis of ageing and its mediation, providing listeners with ‘sounded experience’, a term intended to describe how music reflects upon and helps to mediate life experience over extended periods of time.[5] Added to this is the fact that sound recording provides a rich space for exploring issues of memory, time, lateness and afterlife; in the brief examples cited above, it is the continued presence of Collins’s recordings that allows for the stitching-together of the artist’s life narrative and the ‘subtle continuum’ of her public persona. This chapter engages the concept of anticipated lateness via discussion of the work of three female musicians whose work offers valuable insights into the interplay of history, biography and memory: Sandy Denny, Judy Collins and Nina Simone. It focuses specifically on the representation of innocence and experience via the ‘late voice’, a concept which is exemplified by these artists but which extends to a broad range of modern (post mid-twentieth century) popular musics and musicians. When referring to ‘lateness’, I have in mind five primary issues: chronology (the stage in an artist’s career); the vocal act (the ability to convincingly portray experience); afterlife (posthumous careers made possible by recorded sound); retrospection (how voices ‘look back’ or anticipate looking back); and the writing of age, experience, lateness and loss into song texts. The song ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, written by Denny and later performed by Collins and Simone, provides a case study for this discussion, and is analysed in terms of its representation of time and experience and in relation to the lives and works of its interpreters.

Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny (born Alexandra Elene Maclean Denny in 1947 in Wimbledon) established herself as a performer in the London folk scene of the mid-1960s. Denny had showed early promise as a singer, though a visit to the Royal College of Music with her mother had led to the verdict that her ‘pretty little voice’ would be best left untrained in order for her to concentrate on singing naturally.[6] Denny learned piano and guitar, focussing on the latter instrument as she entered the world of clubs associated with the folk song revival. As she frequented these venues and met other members of the scene, she built up a good knowledge of traditional song from the British Isles and North America and started to incorporate some of it into her own repertoire. Her early performances took place while she was pursuing other vocational possibilities – firstly as a trainee nurse, later as an art student – but by 1966 she was turning increasingly towards music as a profession and was developing a strong reputation for her singing. Following the standard folk practice of the time, Denny mixed traditional material with contemporary work authored by emerging writers; clear influences on her early style included Joan Baez and Anne Briggs – singers associated with the American and British folk revival respectively – and Bob Dylan, whose self-written songs had galvanized the American and British scenes.

From its initial stages, Denny’s songwriting displays a sense of loss, melancholy and experience that suggests an early sense of lateness. Her first documented composition ‘In Memory (The Tender Years)’, written as an elegy for a former classmate who died young, includes references to ‘the sighing of the wind’, ‘a murmur of regret’, ‘running with the dawn’ and ‘trees of green and gold’.[7] It features a mournful, elegiac arrangement, with fingerpicked acoustic guitar and fatalistic vocal lines that emphasize the passing of the seasons and of brief human lives and loves. The attachment of nature imagery to memory, nostalgia, longing and the passing of time would become a staple of Denny’s writing, often complemented by allusions to water in the form of rivers, banks, shores or the sea.[8]

Denny’s nature/time imagery would find its most famous setting in ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, an early composition that initially bore the title ‘Ballad of Time’. Discovered in Denny’s notebooks, this early version does not refer in its opening line to either ‘morning sky’ or ‘evening sky’ as later versions would, but the remainder of the lyric, with its reflection on ‘the storms of winter’ and ‘the birds in Spring again’ remained the same, with its emphasis on seasonality and the transience of nature and human relationships. Denny’s notebook poem opens with reference to a ‘distant sky’, across which ‘all the birds are leaving’. The birds’ seasonal migration is presented as an unconscious process; the question ‘how can they know?’ is left hanging, as is the repeated question of the refrain: ‘who knows where the time goes?’ The ballad’s protagonist is safe beside ‘the winter fire’ and with ‘no thought of time’. ‘Thought’ here must relate to concern rather than awareness, for the protagonist clearly has time on her mind, perhaps as a result of having time on her hands. This would seem to be supported by the echoes of this line in the ballad’s other verses: ‘I do not count the time’ in the second, ‘I do not fear the time’ in the third. The second verse opens on a ‘sad deserted shore’ and refers to the departure not of birds but of ‘fickle friends’. As so often in her writing, Denny here moves from nature imagery to the compromised world of social relations. The friends are presented as having no more knowledge or control over their actions than the migrating birds. The stoical protagonist remains rooted to the hearth, with the liminal space of the shoreline in mind if not in sight.

By the time Denny came to record the song in 1967, it had gained the title by which it would become famous and its first line had been changed to ‘across the purple sky’, providing a more poetic point of reflection from which to depart. Her first demo of the song finds her using a fast fingerpicking accompaniment and, although she elongates some of the key words (‘leaving’, ‘go’, ‘dreaming’, ‘winter’), she sings the title refrain quite quickly, with little of the lingering reflection that she would subsequently adopt.[9] Denny recorded another version that same year during her brief tenure in The Strawbs, although the recording was a solo one, made during the group’s trip to Copenhagen.[10] While of shorter duration than the first demo, this version sounds statelier, due to a less frenetic guitar style (a combination of slow strumming and spare picking) and Denny’s more reflective vocal delivery. As a singer, she had, by this point found her style, one in which, as Philip Ward notes, her ‘rubato elongation of a line seems to make time stand still’.[11]

Judy Collins

Sandy Denny’s recording for The Strawbs would remain unreleased until 1973 and it was to be Judy Collins’s version of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ that would propel the song to its greatest success when it appeared in three different formats in 1968: on a 7-inch single as the B-side to ‘Both Sides Now’; as the title track of Collins’s eighth album; and as the music played over the opening and closing scenes of Ulu Grosbard’s 1968 film The Subject Was Roses. Born in Seattle in 1939, Collins was a piano prodigy who abandoned her classical music background when she became interested in folk music and switched to the guitar. She moved to New York’s Greenwich Village in 1961, becoming part of the vibrant music scene that included Bob Dylan and Nina Simone. Following two albums of traditional music, Collins began to record contemporary songs by writers such as Dylan and Pete Seeger. As Johnny Rogan and Richie Unterberger both note, Collins’s album #3 was a vital link in the development of folk-rock, mixing the emerging pop sensibility with the rules and repertoire of the folk revival.[12] By the late 1960s Collins had moved far beyond most of her folk revival contemporaries, both in terms of the arrangements she was utilizing and the range of material she was incorporating.

Collins discovered Denny’s song when she was passed a tape of the recording made during The Strawbs’ Danish trip. In her 2011 memoir, Collins writes of the happenstance of ‘finding’ this song at the time she was mourning her recently deceased father and how it fit so well with her own composition ‘My Father’, also included on Who Knows Where the Time Goes.[13] One obvious change to the song in Collins’s version can be found in the opening words, which become ‘Across the morning sky’, a change from the ‘distant sky’ in ‘The Ballad of Time’ and the ‘purple sky’ of Denny’s two early recordings.[14] It is unclear whether this was a change indicated by Denny at any point, though it is one she would briefly adopt when first performing the song with Fairport Convention. Collins further takes ownership of the song through her vocal treatment and the instrumental arrangement. The album version begins with the slowly strummed acoustic guitars of Collins and Stephen Stills before Collins’s vocal enters, slightly later than might be expected, setting up a sense of dislocation that will continue throughout the recording. Collins’s phrasing is different to Denny’s, the syllables of most words delivered with a more regular stress, estranging some of the meaning established in Denny’s versions. Like Denny, Collins dwells on certain words and sounds, for example by elongating the words ‘go’ and ‘fire’ and adding melisma to the first syllable of ‘leaving’ and second syllable of ‘dreaming’. Following the first refrain (with its elongation of the word ‘time’ in the repeated line), there is another moment of dislocation as the rest of the band (bass, drums, electric guitar, piano) enter in a somewhat clunky manner. This is the first moment in the recorded chronology that ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ becomes a rock song, with the potential for a gradual building-up and layering of instruments. This introduces nuances to Denny’s songs, as instrumental fills appear between phrases, guitars build up at the climatic moments, and the drum kit propels the verses and refrains forward with a new and appropriate relentlessness.

Nina Simone

By the time Nina Simone added Sandy Denny’s song to her repertoire in the late 1960s, she had amassed a considerable amount of personal and professional experience. Of the three artists under consideration here, Simone was born first and her rendition of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ can therefore be considered as being most representative of a ‘late voice’ when lateness is associated mainly with biology and professional chronology. Born Eunice Waymon in North Carolina in 1933 to a working class black family, Simone witnessed firsthand the cruelties and injustices of the segregated American South. While racial prejudice marked her from an early age, Simone also experienced opportunity when, in recognition of her precocious gifts as a keyboardist, she benefitted from private piano tuition, funded initially by her parents and later by a fund set up by the local community. The piano training continued though her teenage years, with everyone expecting Eunice to become a classical pianist. This dream died when, at the age of 18, she was rejected by the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia in a decision that Simone interpreted as racially motivated. Even as she continued with her classical training, Simone turned increasingly towards the performance of popular music, first as a pianist and singer in a variety of night clubs in Philadelphia and New York (at which stage she settled on her professional name), and, from the mid-late late 1950s, as a recording artist. Following an ultimately unsuccessful contract with the independent Bethlehem label, Simone signed to Colpix and released a number of albums in quick succession, followed by an equally prolific period at Philips from 1964, where she released seven albums in three years. It was during this time, and her subsequent tenure with RCA, that she became strongly connected to the civil rights movement and to the revolutions taking place in art, music and social relationships.[15]

Simone shared a significant amount of repertoire with Judy Collins, including songs by Brecht & Weill, Dylan, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen and Randy Newman. Simone also recorded Collins’s own composition ‘My Father’, suggesting that Collins’s repertoire may have been an influence on Simone’s song choices. Certainly, Simone matched Collins in her eclecticism; like Collins and Denny, she was also a powerful songwriter, adding ‘Mississippi Goddam’, ‘Four Women’ and ‘To Be Young, Gifted and Black’ to the repertoire of classic 1960s protest/pride anthems.

The version of Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ that Simone recorded at a New York concert in 1969, and which was released the following year on her album Black Gold, uses the ‘morning sky’ reference in its opening line, suggesting the additional influence of Collins. Regardless of her source, Simone takes absolute control of the song, treating it as an object to be manipulated to her desires. She begins this manipulation by introducing the song to her audience via a meditation on time and experience:

Let’s see what we can do with this lovely, lovely thing that goes past all racial conflict and all kinds of conflict. It is a reflective tune and some time in your life you will have occasion to say ‘What is this thing called time? You know, what is that?’ … [T]ime is a dictator, as we know it: where does it go? What does it do? Most of all, is it alive? Is it a thing that we cannot touch and is it alive? And then one day you look in the mirror – how old – and you say, ‘Where did the time go?’[16]

Simone delivers this introduction in a soft, reflective voice, creating an intimacy that invites her audience to think about time, age and experience. I have previously suggested that this spoken delivery, in combination with the subsequent performance, invites a heightened awareness of the passing of time.[17] A sense of inevitability is embedded into Simone’s version of the song, when, during the second verse, percussion enters at one beat per second, offering a clockwork counterpart to the more free-flowing vocal and keyboard lines. Like Collins’s band version, Simone’s (which features acoustic guitar, piano, organ and light percussion) offers a sense of dislocation as it shifts instrumental textures and navigates between metric rigidity and fluidity. Unlike Collins, Simone’s doesn’t use crescendo, largely avoiding the building up of instruments and vocal power. Instead, she sings the first verses in a soft, inviting register accompanied only by gently strummed acoustic guitar, later offering a modest piano solo before leaving keyboard duties to Weldon Irvine’s ghostly organ. In a manner that recalls, and yet is distinct from, both Collins and Denny, Simone elongates certain key words, such as ‘dreaming’ in verse one, where her melisma on the /iː/ phoneme makes the word seem to flutter above the melody, emphasizing the suggestion of dreaming, contemplation and reverie that pervades the song.


While Sandy Denny had first recorded her signature song as a solo performance, her subsequent recordings of the song would be in full band versions, most famously the version recorded by Fairport Convention in 1969 for the album Unhalfbricking. As she had found with her brief involvement in The Strawbs, and as she would later find with the post-Fairport group Fotheringay and the musicians who collaborated on her albums as a ‘solo’ artist, Denny welcomed the camaraderie and collaborative possibilities of groups. At the time of forming Fotheringay, Denny described her attitude towards collaboration via reference to a Judy Collins show she had attended in London. She described Collins as ‘someone who was definitely a solo singer, who just happened to have a very good backing group. But that’s all they were’.[18] While perhaps an unfair observation of Collins’s collaborative process (described in rich detail in the latter’s 2011 memoir and evident from listening to her recordings), Denny clearly felt a conflict between the role of solo artist and band member. The three performers discussed in this chapter are notable as female creators who mostly wrote solo while using all-male bands to flesh out their creations. Simone, who rarely performed or recorded solo, once bluntly described her collaborators as ‘an extension of myself or they don’t play with me’.[19]

Denny’s work with Fairport Convention provides ample evidence of the collaborative process she valued. Fairport brought to Denny’s songs a sense of drama achieved through the pacing and layering of additional instruments. To hear Fairport’s recordings of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ (a traditional song recorded by Fairport shortly after Denny joined the group and also previously recorded by Judy Collins) is to hear a decisive development of the British folk-rock template that would be adopted by Fairport and other groups during the genre’s classic years.[20] The Unhalfbricking version of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ echoes the folk-rock template initiated by Collins’s recording, while benefitting from a more fluid forward propulsion due to Richard Thompson’s constant, subtle guitar work and the way in which the song’s groove is established from the outset.[21] A version of the song by Fairport recorded for the BBC in February 1969 contains the ‘morning sky’ lyric used by Collins and Simone, though whether this is a Denny innovation or the influence of Collins is unclear. By the time the song appears on Unhalfbricking, Denny is singing of birds departed ‘across the evening sky’, as she will continue to do for the remainder of her career.

I have consistently noted the changes made to the opening line of the song by Denny, Collins and Simone because I think it helps to frame a reading of the song as an expression of time, experience and lateness. In an earlier interpretation of the song, I suggested that this switch between morning and evening as the point of reflection presented a paradox: if hearing Denny’s song as an expression of ‘youthful wonder’, which I associated with the ‘morning’ of one’s life, why start in the evening? And if hearing Simone’s version especially as a reflective, retrospective song, why start in the morning?[22] Yet I also dwelled on the references to the turning of the seasons and it is this cyclical reading of the time of reflection which I am more inclined to pursue now. Where I previously associated evening with lateness and with the point of narration, the point at which one look’s back at the ‘day’ of one’s life, I now want to focus on the possibility of multiple opportunities for such retrospection, including morning with its bright exposure of what had previously been hidden by darkness. In her book Relating Narratives, Adriana Cavarero draws upon an anecdote recalled by Karen Blixen and subsequently analysed by Hannah Arendt. The anecdote concerns a man who works through the night fixing a leaking pond; on contemplating his work in the light of the morning he finds he has created the figure of a stork with his footprints. Blixen, Arendt and Cavarero use the story to offer reflections on how narratives make sense of the chaos of life and how, as Cavarero puts it, a story ‘can only be narrated from the posthumous perspective’ of one not currently engaged in the events of the story.[23] From my perspective, I am interested in the fact that, although the point of narrative must be late (or ‘posthumous’), there is no obviously privileged time for this moment of late reflection; while evening invites contemplation of what Freud called ‘day residues’, morning brings fresh illumination on what has passed in the night, making sense of yesterday and last night, an ideal point for the interpretation of dreams.[24] Or, as Sandy Denny’s song ‘Dawn’ has it, ‘from the blackest night / must come the morning sky’.

‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ is narrated in present and future tenses: birds and friends are leaving; birds and friends just know (permanently) when it is time to go; the protagonist will be dreaming, will still be here. The past is not explicitly mentioned, but this does not mean that there is no posthumous narrative, for the moment of storytelling is always in the present, as are the moments of remembering and imagining. This present-tense realization of what is in the process of disappearing and of what will come around again recalls Freud’s essay ‘On Transience’, in which Freud recounts a walk in the countryside ‘in the company of a taciturn friend and of a young but already famous poet’. The poet is dejected because of his awareness of the transient beauty of the nature surrounding them:

The proneness to decay of all that is beautiful and perfect can, as we know, give rise to two different impulses in the mind. The one leads to the aching despondency felt by the young poet, while the other leads to rebellion against the fact asserted. No! It is impossible that all this loveliness of Nature and Art, of the world of our sensations and of the world outside, will really fade away into nothing. It would be too senseless and too presumptuous to believe it. Somehow or other this loveliness must be able to persist and to escape all the powers of destruction.[25]

Freud tries to convince his pessimistic companions that there is gain rather than loss in such things precisely because of their transience: ‘Transience value is scarcity value in time. Limitation in the possibility of an enjoyment raises the value of enjoyment.’  He asserts that nature, unlike human life, is eternal even though the seasons wreak temporary changes. As his companions fail to see his version of events, Freud surmises that they were experiencing ‘a foretaste of mourning’, the pain of which has ‘interfered’ with ‘their enjoyment of beauty’.[26]

Freud’s tale and Denny’s song are connected not only through their shared emphasis on nature’s transience and cyclical return, but also by the way in which time’s passing is noted through visual evidence and the physical world. They are tales not only of time, but also of space, of tangible elements that can be held but not kept, that can be available to all the senses but cannot be fixed. That time is something locatable (and losable) is echoed in the question that provides Denny’s refrain: where is time and where does it go?[27] Nina Simone makes such questions explicit with her framing of the song – the ‘ballad of time’ is both the beautiful object it will forever remain and also a way of reflecting on life and experience, a reflection (from morning or night, from Autumn or Spring) on what has been lost and may or may not return.

This possibility of return is not to deny the inevitable, unidirectional flow of age, however. As Jean Améry and Norberto Bobbio have emphasized, where biological age is concerned, life is not a cycle but a course that leads towards decrepitude and death. ‘Those who believe they have what is called “time” in front of them’, writes Améry, ‘know that they are truly destined to step out into space, to externalize themselves. Those who have life within them, i.e., authentic time, have to be internally satisfied with the deceptive magic of memory’.[28] Améry pursues this distinction between the imagined time of the young and the ‘authentic time’ of the aged in order to make clear the irreversibility of the ageing process. Bobbio also dwells on irreversibility and decline, contrasting the romanticized image of ‘wise old age’ with the physical, mental and emotional realities of the ageing process.[29]

In Améry’s terms, Denny’s song, at least as first articulated by its young composer, could be heard as a precocious externalization of the experience of time, a fearless throwing of oneself into the space of imagination and adventure rather than a submission of oneself to the prison of time. We might also hear it as a way of taming time and space, domesticating nature with its references to home and hearth and what we might call, after Susan Stewart, the miniaturization of the gigantic. Stewart offers a reminder of the ironic stance and feigned distanciation inherent in the transformation of the sublime into the beautiful, or the feared into the tamed:

The loneliness of nature spreads out before the solitary figure at the edge of the cliff as the stage of his consequent (and consequential) experience. But this beholder must always remain aware of the frame, aware of the encompassing role of nature. Hence the natural in the sublime is always a tamed beast, is always a transformation of action into object and distance into transcendence, and hence always sublimely ironic.[30]

The ‘transformation of action into object’ does not apply only to the objectification of time in Denny’s song, but also to the objectification of the song itself. As object, the song becomes detachable from its source (hence, scores of cover versions of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’) and the songwriter, as performer, also becomes detachable from the original artefact, be that the ‘Ballad of Time’ in Denny’s notebook, the early home recording or the ‘definitive’ version of the song by Fairport Convention.

Though it may seem timeless, the song ages because of the various iterations it has undergone and because meaning is never fixed. Whether it is heard to age gracefully or otherwise is a matter of debate and depends on the emotional attachment the listener has to the song. Philip Ward notes how, in events commemorating Denny and her work, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’ has inevitably become a rousing show closer rather than a meditative number.[31] Judy Collins writes, in her 2011 memoir, of weeping when she hears the song due to its associations with Denny’s tragic death; here, what we might call the emotional life of the song, which for Collins must also include the role it played in her own career, is attached to the life (and death) of its writer.[32]

In terms of ‘normal’ lifespans, Denny did not age far, dying at 31 from complications following a fall. But in other ways she could be considered older than her years. A number of collaborators and commentators on her life noted the way that Denny’s voice suffered as a result of her alcohol abuse and Denny herself expressed interest in replicating the ‘shattered effects’ of Janis Joplin’s voice through emulating Joplin’s drinking patterns.[33] Denny’s last major concert took place in London in 1977 and was recorded and subsequently released as a live album. The performance includes a moving reading of ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, a song that by this time had become an object with a separate life from its writer but also a part of her. Noting the changes in Denny’s voice by this point, Pam Winters writes: ‘Sometimes the voice wanders and wavers. It’s worn fine like an old tapestry. It’s not dewy and bright, but that’s part of its beauty. It wears life; it contains mortality.’[34] Denny’s friend Linda Thompson was less poetic about Denny’s appearance after the London show, claiming that the thirty year old looked fifty.[35]

While Denny did not reach the ‘old age’ that Améry and Bobbio write about, she provides an example of the singer who, like Billie Holiday, Hank Williams, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse, invites consideration of age, the body and experience due to an anticipated lateness and an abuse-scarred voice.[36] Voices, of course, can be put on and may or may not match the actual age of their owners. It is certainly not necessary for a voice to be singing about time, age or experience in order to convey these themes – vocal grain can be enough for that, while lack of vocal grain may leave us unconvinced by singers trying to convey songs of experience. But when ‘experienced’ or ‘lived-in’ voices attach themselves to lyrical evocations of passing time, the effect is amplified. The singing voices of artists are also given extra resonance by intertextual means, such as when they are heard speaking in interviews and concerts, or encountered in written form. Nina Simone’s voice rings through her collaboratively written autobiography, adding extra layers of meaning to her recorded voice. Judy Collins, in her 2011 memoir, adopts a reflective and candid narrative voice that offers new insights into her emotional life. One brief chapter, entitled ‘The Drinking Decades’, offers a reflection on the point just prior to her decision, in 1978, to come to terms with her alcoholism:

Where had the time gone? Where were the beautiful promises of my childhood, of my career, of my parents? […] There had been a time when the dream was bright. My memory, strangely undamaged, told me the story, over and over again, like the recollection of some far-off place, some fabled paradise to which I yearned to return.[37]

Layers of memory, loss and reflection must be added when we consider that these lines appear in a memoir written more than three decades after this realization took place. Collins is using a framing mechanism that can only be constructed from a posthumous point of reflection as a way of making sense of the chaos of the events being recounted. Collins, who is using the narrative to set up the major event that was her return to sobriety, allows another sense of the emotional life of the song under discussion here by connecting her turmoil to its main lyric. Nina Simone also tapped into this emotional life when she introduced her version of Denny’s song (‘this lovely, lovely thing’ as she called it), using it as an object to reflect on her own and her audience’s awareness of time passing.

For Collins and Simone, such modes of reflection were possible as they enjoyed (or occasionally endured) longer careers and more opportunities for retrospection: late concerts, autobiographies, career reviews, interviews and features, songs of the ageing self or changes to versions of long-performed songs. Simone continued performing through her later years, more intermittently in the years leading to her death in 2003, at the age of 70. The meeting of her early sense of lateness with her chronologically late voice led to some rich, complex, and sometimes infuriatingly uneven work.[38] Collins has continued making music while adding film directing, writing, painting and political activism to her accomplishments. As well as writing fiction and a book on the creative process, she has penned a number of memoirs, including an account of her attempt to come to terms with the suicide of her son. She has also retained Denny’s song in her concert repertoire, allowing the emotional life of the song to articulate for Collins’s fans their own understanding and appreciation of her continued presence in their lives.


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Stewart, Susan, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993).

Sweers, Britta, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Taylor, Arthur, Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews (New York: Da Capo Press, 1993).

Unterberger, Richie, Turn! Turn! Turn!: The 60s Folk-rock Revolution (Milwaukee: Backbeat Books, 2002).

Ward, Philip, Sandy Denny: Reflections on Her Music (Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, 2011).

Young, Rob, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (London: Faber and Faber, 2010).

[1] Guy Blackman, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’, The Age online edition, 2 April 2006, (accessed 5 August 2013).

[2] No Author, ‘Gem of a Voice Shines On’, The Age online edition, 25 March 2006, (accessed 5 August 2013).

[3] Kathleen Woodward, Aging and Its Discontents: Freud and Other Fictions (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), 6.

[4] Andrew Blaikie, Ageing and Popular Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 6.

[5] See Richard Elliott, Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), 126-30.

[6] Clinton Heylin, No More Sad Refrains: The Life and Times of Sandy Denny (London: Omnibus, 2011), 18; Philip Ward, Sandy Denny: Reflections on Her Music (Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, 2011), 168.

[7] Sandy Denny, ‘In Memory (The Tender Years)’, on The Notes and the Words (CD, Island 371 246-9, 2012).

[8] A number of writers have commented on Denny’s obsession with water imagery, often reading it in gendered terms. Philip Ward, perceiving a particular emphasis on ‘oceanic imagery’ amongst female artist, supports his claim via reference to the work of Hélène Cixous; see Ward, Sandy Denny, 60-62, 183-5. Simon Reynolds and Joy Press connect Denny’s oceanic imagery with Carl Jung’s ‘feminine archetypes’ in The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock ’n’ Roll (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1995), 285. Rob Young does not focus solely on gender but is keen to read into Denny’s work anxieties regarding her family, friends, husband and baby; see Rob Young, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music (London: Faber and Faber, 2010), 318-23;.

[9] Denny, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, The Notes and the Words.

[10] Sandy Denny, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes’, Where the Time Goes (CD, Sanctuary CMRCD 1181, 2005).

[11] Ward, Sandy Denny, 96.

[12] Johnny Rogan, liner notes to Judy Collins, Judy Collins #3 & The Judy Collins Concert, CD, Elektra/WSM 8122 76505-2, 2004;Richie Unterberger, Turn! Turn! Turn!: The 60s Folk-rock Revolution. Milwaukee: Backbeat Books, 2002, 48-9.

[13] Judy Collins, Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2011), p. 237.

[14] Judy Collins, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, on Wildflowers & Who Knows Where the Time Goes (CD, Elektra/Rhino 8122 73393-2, 2006).

[15] Nina Simone and Stephen Cleary, I Put a Spell On You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone (New York: Da Capo Press, 2003); Nadine Cohodas, Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone (New York: Pantheon, 2010); Richard Elliott, Nina Simone (Sheffield: Equinox, 2013).

[16] Nina Simone, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’, on Emergency Ward / It Is Finished / Black Gold (CD, Camden 74321924802, 2002).

[17] Elliott, Nina Simone,113-4.

[18] Cited in Heylin, No More Sad Refrains, 117.

[19] Arthur Taylor, Notes and Tones: Musician-to-Musician Interviews (New York: Da Capo Press, 1993), 157.

[20] Michael Brocken, The British Folk Revival 1944-2002 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003); Britta Sweers, Electric Folk: The Changing Face of English Traditional Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); Dave Laing, Karl Dallas, Robin Denselow and Robert Shelton, The Electric Muse: The Story of Folk into Rock (London: Methuen, 1975).

[21] Fairport Convention, ‘Who Knows Where the Time Goes?’, on Unhalfbricking (CD, Island/Universal IMCD 293, 2003).

[22] Elliott, Nina Simone, 111-13.

[23] Adriana Cavarero, Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood, trans. Paul A. Kottman (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 1-3.

[24] Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. James Strachey, eds. James Strachey, Alan Tyson and Angela Richards (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991).

[25] Sigmund Freud, ‘On Transience’, The Standard Edition,Vol. 14, 305.

[26] Freud, ‘On Transience’, 305-7; see also Sylviane Agacinski, Time Passing: Modernity and Nostalgia, trans. Jody Gladding (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 13-14.

[27] For a fascinating exploration of such questions, see Eva Hoffman, Time (London: Profile, 2011).

[28] Jean Améry, On Aging: Revolt and Resignation, trans. John D. Barlow (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 15.

[29] Norberto Bobbio, Old Age and Other Essays, trans. and ed. Allan Cameron (Cambridge: Polity, 2001), 3-31.

[30] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1993), 78.

[31] Philip Ward, ‘The Lady at the Barbican’, Sandy Denny blog, 28 May 2012, (accessed 30 August 2013).

[32] Collins, Sweet Judy, 242.

[33] Heylin, No More, 122-3.

[34] Pam Winters, liner notes to Sandy Denny, Gold Dust, CD, Island 524493-2 (1998).

[35] Heylin, No More, 230.

[36] On Holiday and Williams, see Richard Leppert and George Lipsitz, ‘“Everybody’s Lonesome for Somebody”: Age, the Body and Experience in the Music of Hank Williams’, Popular Music, Vol. 9 No. 3. (1990), 259-274.

[37] Collins, Sweet Judy, 310.

[38] See Elliott, Nina Simone, 104-45.