Back in 1864, a French historian named Fustel de Coulanges published a book called “The Ancient City,” in which he argued that urban life began with graveyards. Nomadic peoples found themselves needing ways to care for and memorialize their dead. The social unity of the tribe, the sense of their families, and the force of their religious cults depended at least in part on an enduring feeling for heroic figures from the past and an objective symbol of a people who extend through time. Graveyards gradually grew into temples, and temples gradually flowered into cities.
Two weeks before Christmas last year, Dr. Kristen Neff stood in front of an audience at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. She was, in the words of the MC, a “very, very special guest” speaking on a “very, very interesting topic”—namely, compassion. Not just any sort of compassion, mind you, and certainly not the old-fashioned sort defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” She was there to talk about her compassion for herself.
I have never met anyone else who owns Judy Collins’s debut album. Fans prefer her lusher mid-’60s records, which are indeed some of the best pop-folk LPs of all time. Even though I value it more than any other record I own, I will concede that Maid of Constant Sorrow is mostly a forgettable affair. Its value lies with one song, the third cut on side one, her recording of “Wild Mountain Thyme.”