Farewells aren't easy for Judds

August 08, 1991|By Roger Catlin | Roger Catlin,The Hartford Courant

SHE didn't want to call it the Farewell Tour.

Naomi Judd -- at age 45 the senior member of country's most popular mother-daughter team, also known as the idea person, the Imagineer, the Queen of Everything -- had some other suggestions.

Such as the Sunset Tour.

"Because the sun sets every evening but rises the next morning," she said.

"I hate the word farewell because it means goodbye," she said during telephone interview during a pause in what was ultimately called The Judds' Farewell Tour. "I have a hitch in my giddyap, but I'm still going.

To most folks the diagnosis of chronic active hepatitis is more than a mere hitch in the giddyap.

"It's a progressive disease of the liver for which there is no known cure," said Judd, who was a registered nurse before she agreed to go out as a singing duo with her daughter, Wynonna, seven years ago.

"I've had it in my liver for more than four years. I checked the medical books, which give you just three years to live and all this garbage. So I slammed those suckers and never looked at them since.

"I realize now the world is run by spiritual laws, not natural laws," Naomi said. 'I've always been a believer, but this last year has really enriched and deepened my walk with the Lord.

"Only people who have faced a life-threatening illness, or a victim of violent crime or an incurable disease, would know what it is to stare life in the face. Most people don't come to the edge of being. And when you are, there are universal truths revealed to you."

Not that this is news to her.

"I've always known about this stuff," she said. "I have more awareness on this than the average Joe. I have been in the dirt; I have crawled over broken glass. I have been real grounded in what the priorities of life are.

"The hardest part of this whole crisis has not been my whole

mortality. I'm a real tough cookie. . . . I know there is an afterlife.

"The hardest part of the whole crisis is what Wynonna and I had to go through.

"As the Judds continued recording and touring last summer, despite the deadly diagnosis, nobody talked about it.

"I felt like I had the flu all the time -- for a year. Thank God for the fans and the concert every night. When the lights come up, the hell disappears. I straighten up my back; I'm able to transcend the aches and pains. At that point, fans didn't know there was anything wrong with me. I just had a transferred psycho-neuro immunology. Sometimes it's called a positive attitude."

But when it came to the point where she was helped from the bus to the stage via a golf cart, "everybody in the 30-man organization on life's highway knew the Queen of Everything was in deep trouble. Everybody freaked out."

Especially her 26-year-old partner and daughter.

"Wynonna was a basket case. If I were hospitalized or flown home, she would completely lose it."

When it became obvious that she had to quit the duo, "I couldn't tell Wynonna. We had never been more than six feet apart for 26 years, whether it was on the bus or sharing the dressing room or on stage. It was just too painful. It was absolutely unspeakable."

It was so hard to tell Wynonna she was quitting that she had longtime manager Ken Stilts tell her instead.

"When he told her, she said she was quitting music, too. She completely fell apart. I realized then the kid never thought about having a solo career."

They didn't talk directly to each other about the breakup for another two days.

Then, Naomi says, "She pulled up a chair in front of the window at the hotel we were staying. She wouldn't even look at me. But I could see a steady creek of tears.

"I said, 'Honey, God gave you a gift. We've worked our butts off to get here; you have to do this.'

'We owe it to our fans. These are the people who put us where we are. And we have such a special relationship with the fans. In the beginning, they said we inspired them; we just inspired them as a mother and daughter standing together.

"Then they told us how much one of the songs meant to them, or something that happened because of the song, and we draw from that. We think about that the next time we're on stage, and it comes alive to us. We have faces to put on the songs."

That's part of the reason for the current tour, which stretches to December -- a way to say goodbye to their fans.

"Sure it's not fair! But I have never said 'Why me?' I have no ## patience for self-pity. I don't question the Lord."

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