Judee Sill may not have achieved the fame of a Joni Mitchell, but the people she reached have reacted the same way those first fans of the Velvet Underground did – they run out and start a band...or a choir. She's one of those rare artists that forges an intimate bond with you as though she’s whispering directly into your ear.
She only released two albums - her 1971 self-titled debut and 1973's Heart Food - before she OD’ed in 1979 broke and unknown. But she’s the real deal, the missing link between JS Bach and Emmylou Harris with lyrics full of Christian cowboy-pokes and silver space ships.
Over the past few years Sill has enjoyed a resurgence among bands like the Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear who have been singing her praises. I first discovered her after reading an interview with XTC’s Andy Partridge:
"She's really stunning, really stunning. Leagues away from all the other kind of corny bootheels-in-the-dust, denim-flares-California-West-Coast thing of the early '70s. She just makes them eat cactus, as far as I'm concerned. She's phenomenally good.”
In 2007 Yuko and I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and I had Judee Sill’s first album on repeat.
The music was gorgeous and lush and the lyrics bore an uncanny resemblance to the swirling emotions I was feeling while ascending the heights:
I heard the thunder come rumblin'
The light never looked so dim
I see the junction get nearer
And danger is in the wind
And either road's lookin' grim
- Jesus Was A Cross Maker
Bless the ridge rider,
The ridge he's ridin' is mighty thin.
I guess the ridge rider
Forgets he's travelin' with a friend.
- Ridge Rider
I put together a video of our climb with Judee Sill’s “Crayon Angel” and the Fleet Foxes’ “Oliver James.”
Crayon Angel songs are slightly out of tune
But I'm sure I'm not to blame.
Nothin's happened but I think it will soon,
So I sit here waitin' for God and a train,
To the Astral plane.
Magic rings I made have turned my finger green.
And my mystic roses died.
Guess reality is not as it seems,
So I sit here hopin' for truth and a ride,
To the other side.
Phony prophets stole the only light I knew,
And the darkness softly screamed.
Holy visions disappeared from my view,
But the angels come back and laugh in my dreams,
I wonder what it means.