Visions With Judee Sill

The lamb ran away with the crown.

Judee Sill makes me laugh but she’s scary. That’s how being a prophet works: her presence vibrates the air around her. I first heard her through a twee lens, dazzled by the ornamentation in that room behind the old doctors’ office, the walls painted green. Now, it’s the mystery and terror that gets me most. “The angels come back and laugh in my dreams, I wonder what it means,” Sill sings.

Judee sings about the coming apocalypse. (Ours?) She drops UFOs and celestial alignments into her baroque folk pop. Satan wins the foot race. Christ is a star from a cowboy picture, a lonesome cosmic dude. Sill made music that was sensitive to the competing, swirling forces around her. She wanted “musically induce God into giving us all a break.” Yes, please.

“The lower down you go to gain your momentum from, the higher up it’ll propel you,” she says, introducing “Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” a song that saved her life after a wipeout romance with a burnout broke her heart. Judee knew burnout. She’d grown up rough, scourged around the underbelly of Las Vegas. She scammed and sold sex in California. Lots of her fellow Asylum singers played down and out, Judee had been to jail. Adopting a life of music hadn’t completely satisfied her either. At times she found herself frustrated by audiences set to “boogie in the lower levels, not the higher levels.” Judee identified with the ascendent. “The phoenix is a mythical bird that is consumed by its own flames and rises out of its own ashes, you know,” she says. Once, her house caught on fire and pages from her collected writings of Madame Blavatsky took flight on the wind, freed from their book binding by the heat. 

But Judee sings for the garbage too, where Philip K. Dick said "the symbols of the divine initially show up.” Trash and trash people, the betrayers, criminals, destitute. Redemption is possible for them in Judee’s multi-verse. Not even the dirtbag who broke her heart was too far gone. “I knew, that even wretched bastard was not beyond redemption. It’s true. It’s true. I swear.” 

They ruled her death in 1979 a suicide, citing a note her friends suggested could have been a future song or diary entry, “a meditation on rapture, the hereafter and the innate mystery of life.” I think about “The Living End,” a song from 1974 sessions at Michael Nesmith of the Monkees’ studios, with Emitt Rhodes engineering. 

“Fire of heaven, it's sink or swim
By lightning riven, by grace we're in, I just wonder when
There's gonna be a rolling, tumbling new day coming
It'll be the living end”


Judee Sill, Songs Of Rapture And Redemption: Rarities & Live

Judee Sill, Dreams Come True (Hi • I Love You Right Heartily Here • New Songs) 

Judee Sill, Live In London: The BBC Recordings 1972-1973

Judee Sill: Soldier of the Heart (Grover Lewis, Rolling Stone

The Many Lives of Judee Sill (Angie Martoccio, Rolling Stone

Overlooked No More: Judee Sill, Singer Whose Life Was Cut Short (By Minju Pak, New York Times

A Brief Life, an Enduring Musical Impression Rhino Reissue Sings the Praises of Judee Sill (By Tim Page, Washington Post) 

News: Spoke with Kurt Vile on Aquarium Drunkard Transmissions. DJ’d on Recordbar Radio, playing some originals, zoners from the record collection, and tunes KITIMOTO’s Vintage Smell (now available for pre-order). We had so much fun making that record down in Oracle. Released a new JPW song, “Wealth of the Canyon.” WASTOIDS made a killer Out of Site video down in Tucson with country-gazers Wednesday; Oh and speaking of WASTOIDS, Marc Masters and John Howard have a new podcast about 7” records called The Spindle. There’s also a new Click Vortex, my show with Sam Means, with lots of cyberpunk and very personal clarinet talk.


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