I first met Judee Sill in the spring of 1963, when she was 19 and I had just turn 18. She was living in Studio City, which is in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. While there were occasional long periods when we didn't see each other, we remained friends until her death in 1979. Our last visit together was in the late summer of 1978 when she visited me at my home in Santa Barbara.
I believe that I knew Judee as well as anyone could. Based our relationship and her own words what follows is a brief view of the life and psychology of Judee Sill.
Judee was born in October of 1944 (Libra). She had a brother who was 10 years older. Her father was an importer of rare animals, mainly reptiles, and was an expert amateur herpetologist. Judee remembered him as a dashing, "Indiana Jones" kind of guy.. He took his family on extended collecting expeditions into Mexico, and South America. Judee adored him. Perhaps, as it turned out, she loved him too much. When she was about 9 years old he suddenly died of a heart attack and she was crushed.
The family had never been wealthy, but it appears Judee's father had Hollywood connections. He probably sold snakes and the like to animal wranglers for use in films. When he died the son tried to take over the family business, but he lacked his father's luck and was killed in a car accident in Central America shortly thereafter. Once again Judee was crushed.
Judee's mother had some money of her own, but probably was somewhat relieved when she attracted the romantic interest of Ken Muse, an Academy Award winning animator at MGM studios. (He got the award for animating Tom, of Tom and Jerry, to play the piano with note for note accuracy in "The Cat Concerto".)
When Judee's mother married Ken, and they moved into Ken's lovely home in Encino, Judee saw her mother as a traitor. From that day, until the day she died Judee was in rebellion against authority.
When I met Judee she had just finished high school, where she had been part of a clique of wealthy, rebellious teens, who thought of themselves as "hip and cool". One of her friends Jill L. was a friend of my roommate V. One night while V. and I were visiting Jill, Judee came by and that is how we met. I soon found out that these teenagers were not only sexually experimental, but drug experimental as well. I smoked my first marijuana joint that night. From then on Judee, V. and I became girl-pals and we were soon going on camping trips together.
When Judee started at San Fernando Valley Junior College in the fall of 1963, majoring in Art, my friend V. was already attending classes there. They played in the school orchestra together (V. played violin and Judee played piano.).
Judee was a talented artist. (I know this because I was an Art major at U.C.L.A at time myself.) Her stepfather Ken got her a job at MGM, which would have been a wonderful opportunity for any other artist, but attitude towards Ken made it impossible for her to appreciate it and she was soon let go.
Judee's step-father Ken Muse, Hanna, Barbera and the others from the team that won the Academy Award for the Tom and Jerry cartoon "Cat Concerto"
I visited the Muse home on several occasions. It was beautifully landscaped and professionally decorated. Mrs. Muse was an excellent housekeeper. Everything was immaculate. While Ken wasn't overly friendly to V. and myself, Mrs. Muse was very convivial. Ken, I thought seemed like a typical grouchy old guy. Both he and Mrs. Muse looked to be in their late 50's. One evening we arrived while Judee was still putting on her elaborate make-up, and Judee's mother asked us to speak with her privately. I didn't really understand at the time what she wanted but she asked us to stay close to Judee and help her find her place in the world. Of course we said some polite agreement.
After school ended in the spring of 1964, V. and I decided to spend the summer driving across the country, camping along the way. Judee was very ill, mononucleosis it was said. When we went to the Muse home to say our goodbyes we found her in bed in her satin draped bedroom, a crowd of prescription pills at her bedside, a lovely bed tray beside her on the bed. V. said, "Too bad you're sick Judee, if you were better you could drive to New York with us." Two days later as we were packing our car to go, Judee came walking up with her suitcase. Well, we took her with us. (It was an eventful trip which I will describe more fully when I discuss Judee's psychology.) We drove across Canada, visited my relatives in New York, Judee's uncle in North Carolina and her aunt in Arkansas before returning home.
Judee and D. somewhere in Canada during their cross country trip.
V. returned to college. Judee didn't. She moved out from Ken's house and found a job working for a factory that made mass produced paintings such as you find in motel rooms. Judee had only contempt for her employer and the paintings. She signed hers "Jamin' Jali". "Jam and jelly", she said, get it? The stupid boss never did." It was at this time that she told us that her mother was sick.
One night in the early winter of 1965, Judee appeared at our door. We hadn't heard from her in weeks. "My mother died," she announced on the doorstep. "But really, she died a long time ago." Mrs. Muse probably died of cancer. Her talk with us was an effort to help Judee after the death she knew was coming. She and Ken drank cocktails every evening, but I'm sure they never thought of themselves as alcoholics.
I had been attending U. C. L. A. but the smog was too much for me. I transferred to UC Santa Barbara. V. moved with me and continued her education at Santa Barbara City College, transferring to UC Santa Barbara some years later. While here I met and married Edward. Judee visited us from time to time. She and Edward developed a relationship. He stayed with for a week or so at her home in the San Fernando Valley, during which time she told him that she would become famous and die before she was forty. I also visited her there once or twice a year.
Judee and V. at the Grand Canyon
Judee gave up art and put her energies into music. First Jazz bass, then guitar and songwriting, at which she had amazing success. Her career took off. She had an album which was reviewed in Playboy magazine, and began making concert appearances. It looked like her future had suddenly brightened. Up until then her financial situation was none to good. She had a small inheritance from her mother, a partnership in oil properties in Texas. When the price of oil was up, she did okay, but otherwise things weren't too good. She was never homeless, always renting a small house or apartment in the same area of the San Fernando Valley she grew up in. But she did a lot of drugs, including heroin, when she could get it. She was never able to keep a job. (Quite possibly she did some prostituting at this point of her life. Judee loved playing games on men. She was a tall, slim, not unattractive woman, with ash blond hair, but she was an artist with makeup and often dyed her hair, presenting various glamorous images. She would have been good at the call girl business.) But now, surely, all that would change. All she had to do was try and go along with her producers and stardom would be hers. So I was disheartened to hear her reaction to the review her album received in Playboy. On the liner notes of her first album Judee wrote, "May you savor each song, like a raspberry." The Playboy reviewer wrote, "Next time give us less seedy fruit." Judee was stunned, wounded, outraged. I told her, "Judee you have to harden up. You can't be a public figure with thin skin." She didn't or couldn't listen. The next time I saw her, the career was over. No more records. Her producers had insisted she pay her dues by opening concerts for other acts, which she did a couple of times, but she found it too painful. When she refused to do it any longer the producers dropped her.
She wasn't terribly disheartened. She became obsessively interested in Theosophy, Madame Blavatsky mainly. She had a complete collection of Blavatsky works and was sure some magical key to life was just slightly beyond her grasp. Judee developed her psychic abilities at this time and became a gifted reader of tarot cards. She had a series of female lovers, whom she professed to disdain: "I just have her around to clean my house" was a mocking comment. In fact she had an emotional need for women, which became the dominant direction of her bi-sexuality as she entered her middle thirty's.
Judee had always enjoyed animals. She had absorbed her father's considerable knowledge of herpetology. I remember once watching some silly "Lost World" type of movie with her on T. V. Two supposed dinosaurs were fighting, Judee was incredulous. "Look at that," she said, "why that's just a "whatsadandum" and a "protractor", (sorry but I don't remember what they were really called!) she casually rattled off the full Latin names of these unusual lizards, rampaging through a tabletop forest. I think she thought everybody should have immediately recognized these lizards as she did.
I think despite the loss of her father and brother, Judee somehow retained a connection to the animal importation sub-culture, as she had some rare pets during her life, including a Slow Loris, (an endangered tropical mammal) and other odd creatures. In her thirties, she developed a passion for Pekinese dogs, which she described as "very macho".
Judee and V. somewhere in Arkansas
In the last conversation I had with her we discussed her oil income and how she might get more money out of it. I suggested saving something to make interest. She scorned such a boring notion. I never heard from her again.
We moved in 1983, and in '84 I heard from V. that Judee had died from a drug overdose. I assumed Cocaine had been involved, since she had been part of that unfortunate fad that destroyed so many lives in the 1980's.
Judee's relationship with her stepfather Ken was a deciding factor in her psychology. When I met her she was still living with him and her mother. He was one of her favorite topics of conversation; "The Great Ken Muse" she would say, her voice dripping with sarcasm. To her he was a complete jerk, a pompous fool. She told again and again her favorite tale, an event, which she said, completely summed him up. One hot day, Ken was reading the paper, wearing only his boxer shorts, when some teenage hooligans drove by, throwing beercans at houses, hitting theirs. Ken ran outside in a fury, shaking his fist and cursing at the departing car, when he realized he was out on the public sidewalk clad only in his underwear. Judee always laughed in bitter triumph. "The Great Ken Muse. Making a fool of himself in his underpants!" By my reflection on her childhood homelife, from my more mature viewpoint. I would say that both Ken and Judee's mother tried hard to create a family atmosphere, but Judee could not be reached. It must have been especially galling to Ken, an acclaimed cartoonist whose work was loved by legions of children, that his own small step-daughter treated him with half concealed contempt.
Judee never forgave her mother for marrying Ken. When she told me, the day of her mother's death, that her mother has died a long time ago, she meant, for her, her mother had died the day she married Ken. On the surface Judee had gone along with the program, offering no resistance, but underneath she fought Ken by sabotage and subterfuge, by a thousand little mockeries; and, by making his things mysteriously disappear.
When she was about 15, Judee had a chance to really make Ken and her mother suffer. She met an adult man, who probably reminded her of her father. He was an armed robber. She claims to have married him, although she was underage. He made her his accomplice. Judee loved to tell how she would spend hours in front of a mirror with his pistol, practicing saying, "This is a hold up", with varying expressions and intonations.
Their spree didn't last long. He was sent to prison and she was put in Ventura School for Girls, a reform school. According to her, she was, on the surface, a model inmate, and was made an assistant art instructor, but underneath she defied authority. At the Christmas show, a talent show where the inmates performed, Judee was on stage singing when she suddenly changed her material and sang several verses of "The Prisoner's Song". When she sang, "if I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly, I'd fly to the arms of my darling and there I'd be willing to die," the whole audience burst out cheering. The warden and her staff were not amused.
The night I met Judee I had no experience with drugs. When I said that marijuana burned my throat, Judee said, "Take one of these pills, D. that will stop it hurting". So I swallowed the red capsule, she gave me. Fifteen minutes later the smoke still burned my throat. "Here, take another one," she said. I did. We went to a jazz nightclub in a rough part of town, where I fell on the floor in the lobby and couldn't get up. "Why did you have to do that Judee?" asked one of Jill's friends. "Look at her. How are we going to get her out of here?" "No problem", Judee said, popping a white tablet in my mouth. Soon I was wide awake and stayed that way for many hours. The red capsules were strong sleeping pills and the white tablet was Benzedrine. Judee had played her first little dirty trick on me.
On the trip to New York she played some more tricks. About 2 days out I made a serious mistake driving and almost hit a moving train. Judee and V. said "No more driving for D." They took over my car completely. V. and I didn't want to visit Judee's uncle in the South but she convinced us that he was a fascinating individual, a deep thinker. I was interested in Zen at the time. "He and his wife are Buddhists", Judee claimed. They weren't. They were ordinary working class Southerners with the usual prejudices and viewpoints. The visit was Faulkneresque.
Leaving North Carolina we drove through Tennessee. At every motel we stopped at, men sat on the front porch playing bluegrass in an impromptu jam session. It was wonderful music and Judee was very impressed. In Nashville Judee bought a very realistic looking pistol that shot blanks.
We drove to Arkansas where Judee's aunt lived, wealthy people Judee said, who would give us wonderful hospitality. We arrived at Judee's aunt's home near Hot Springs. It was indeed a beautiful, plantation style home but the aunt didn't seem at all pleased to see Judee. We spent one night and went sightseeing the next day around town. That night when we were in bed, Judee's aunt came into our room saying "Get up quick girls, you all got to get outta here! A mob of men are coming in pickup trucks to get you!" We dressed in tremendous haste and took off, keeping to the Ozark back roads, which V. drove at a good rate of speed. It turned out that when Judee had visited her aunt the previous summer she had created a near riot by insisting on drinking at the "Colored" drinking fountains. On her return the rumor had spread that she had come back with two civil rights activists! (In the summer of 1964, civil rights workers and activists died and disappeared in the strife torn south.) Why Judee had to take us there is a mystery. We weren't heroes, nor was she especially liberal in her views. (Judee like to say that the best cure for communism was to give each communist an acre of lakefront property.) While she certainly was sympathetic to integration, as we all were, I think she drank at the "colored" fountain simply because she was definitely not supposed to.
We drove all night and just before dawn we finally dared to stop for gas at a remote gas station in Oklahoma. The attendant was bad tempered, wakened no doubt from his sleep, but after he cleaned our windshield his manner changed abruptly. He became servile, over polite, "Yes, ma'am, thank you ma'am", he said, backing away from us hesitantly. It wasn't until we were driving away that we noticed Judee's blank pistol was lying on the dashboard. "He thought we were going to rob him", Judee shouted in glee and we all laughed.
As we drove away towards Texas in the early dawn, V. passed a car full of rowdies, heading home from a night of drinking. They didn't like being passed and began tailgating us and pulling up next to our car , shouting curses. "I'll fix this", said Judee, as she leaned out of the car window, firing her pistol at their car. The guy hit his brakes so hard his car veered off the shoulder of the road. "Floor it", Judee yelled and V. did just that. I was very glad to see the Texas state border, having been afraid we would have state troopers behind us to charge us with brandishing weapons, reckless driving or whatever.
Our next stop was the Petrified Forest National Park. This is a fascinating relic of some 300 million year old Tunguska-type event. Trees were flattened for miles , then covered by mud and turned to beautiful stone. Valuable stone. There was big signs everywhere stating the Federal penalties for taking any pieces of petrified wood. Cars were subjected to search. I wandered off to look at some fallen giant tree, now shiny brown gemstone. On my return Judee and V. told me that they had decided to forgive me for almost hitting the train earlier on the trip. I could drive again! In fact, I should drive now. So I drove us out of the park. At the exit a ranger asked me if we had taken any petrified wood. "Certainly not," I said, "it belongs to everyone, to the people of the future." He smiled and let us go. I drove about 200 hundred miles, then we stopped for rest. As I got out of the car Judee said, "look under your seat D." I did and to my horror I saw pieces of petrified wood there!
It's possible that Judee intended to sell that stone, but I doubt it. She just saw all that authority telling her not to take it, so of course she had to. That I would have been arrested, and my car impounded, leaving her and V. stranded didn't enter her mind. It was a crazy thing to do.
After the end of our trip, Judee's mother was hospitalized. Judee moved out to her own small apartment. She and Ken were at her mother's bedside when she died. Judee recounted scornfully later that although Ken had cried "Don't leave me." And clung to his wife's dead body, he remarried a few weeks later. She never spoke of him again, and people who knew her later in life probably never knew he had existed. But, although she left Ken behind and went on, she carried her war against him deep in her psyche. She was always up to mischief, looking for dirty tricks to play, always undermining any authority she encountered.
Once she and one of her boy friends (a smart Alec type, as usual) took Edward and I, after much persuasion, to a Chinese restaurant where they urged us to order fried rice. They suddenly weren't hungry. The food wasn't very good. I was nauseous and back at her apartment I vomited. As I came out of the bathroom I met Judee's eyes, and I saw there a let down, a slight sadness, even a tinge of remorse. Edward didn't vomit, as he has tremendous resistance to staph food-poisoning. Apparently the restaurant was notorious for leaving the rice for hours at room temperature.
A couple of years later Judee met a man she really liked, a descendent of the Baum family, of "Wizard of Oz" fame. She talked of marrying him, having by then left her second husband, a jazz musician. She visited me in Santa Barbara. I asked about Baum. "I fucked that off." She said bitterly. She told me that he had taken her to meet his family and she had tried to make a good impression. Then, for reasons she didn't really understand, she had gone into their bathroom and ransacked their medicine cabinet for "anything you could get high on". She took whole prescription bottles. Baum's mother of course noticed the fact and Baum found his mother's medicine in Judee's luggage.
As she told me this story I could see the pain on her face that these actions had caused her. I think she was beginning to realize that there was a part of her that wasn't under her conscious control. A split off piece of her was still fighting Ken's authority, however inappropriately.
What Judee needed was a brilliant, persistent psychotherapist. What she did was attempt to medicate her painful problems with cocaine and heroin, with tragic results.