Besides reading the obituaries of two well know writers in this morning's New York Times, Robert Parker and Erich Segal, I was terribly upset to read of the death of Kate McGarrigle, at 63.
If I had to pin point specific music to be the soundtrack of my life as an artist working in my studio, it would be the music of the McGarrigle Sisters, whom I first heard on Saturday Night Live in the mid seventies, performing "Heart Like a Wheel." Naturally, even with the most limited of funds, we went out and bought that first album, "Kate and Anna McGarrigle," which became the very music that followed me from home to home, and studio to studio.
The beautiful harmonies and melodies of Kate and Anna filled my small back room studio in Buffalo, New York while I sat and sewed the figures and dolls that first began my true life as a full time artist. When we came back from three months as vagabonds in Europe and settled in Elmira, New York, the album was the first to resume its proper place as number one on my play list. Happliy sewing away in the dining room of an old flat in the even more old fashion town of Elmira (which I loved, by the way), I listened to the sounds of that first album almost non-stop. I loved when they sang of what I thought was upstate New York in "Talk to Me of Mendocino," and I thought for sure I heard a slight smile in the voice of Kate when she sang the lead in "Go Leave," which I always imagined was her send off to her former husband Loudan Wainwright.
Make no mistake: as wonderful as the tunes themselves are the lyrics to the music of Kate and Anna. Theirs is truly poetry set to music in a way that makes it impossible to separate the two. Their sweet voices embraced the words and told the stories and your heart was never left untouched. The only time things went over my head was when they sang in French. I had not a clue about what they were singing. I liked it anyway.
In 1978 we moved to Ithaca so my husband could attend law school at Cornell, and I set up shop in a ramshackle house on Route 79, Slaterville Road. There, amidst the dolls and the cloths and the threads, and the painted eyeballs, played the wonderful, harmonious McGarrigles.
And there, we happily added two more albums to the play list, "Dancer With Bruised Knees," and "Pronto Monto." Why Pronto Monto has still not been issued on CD is a total mystery to me. It is even stronger than Dancer. But music and art often baffle me to the ends of the earth anyway. I still think that the late Michael Jackson was the single most overated artist in musical history.
Our life in Ithaca was like this: I would spend all day, every day, sewing dolls and soft sculptures, and Phil would come home in the evenings from class, and when he needed a break from his studies, he played the piano. Since he always made sure to have the piano tuned to concert pitch, that meant he could play along with albums, and that meant he often played along with Kate and Anna.
On Dancer, two songs remain my very favorites for melody and mood: "Southern Boys" and "Kitty Come Home." And on Pronto Monto, the original version of Nacl (Sodium Chloride), is as charming and clever as a song can be.
Fast foward to Massachusetts in the 1980s. Their albums continued to be played, and I shifted my art form to illustration. And then ---I took a break when we started a family. I was not spending as much time making art and I was not listening to as much music. It was not until we built me a new studio in 1993 and put in a stereo system that I began to listen once again to music as I worked. And it was then that I found out about "Heartbeats Accelerating."
As much as I love this album, it is often difficult to listen to. Not because of the music, because the music is wonderful. It is because there is a sadness of time passing and lives winding down. "I Eat Dinner" almost always brings tears to my eyes. It is about love lost, lonely evenings, youth passed, and the rhythm of life as we age which can be sad as we understand that youth has left. Still, I began to get back to serious art and illustration, and once again, the McGarrigles played in the background.
Down the road, came The McGarrigle Hour, which is a much more upbeat CD. Even though "Alice Blue Gown" and "What'll I do" are not original McGarrigle songs, their renditions of those songs set off a brand new flurry of musical direction for Phil and I as he began to play those two charming old melodies consistently, and I found myself lost in the 20s musically and visually. I also fell in love with the breathy, overly melodramatic Rufus Wainwright and "Heartburn."
Now, hearing that Kate has passed away, I am so very sad in a way that I have not been for a long time. I had always thought that she and Anna would once again return to creating albums as wonderful and inspiring as those first three. I thought that maybe, once they were truly gray haired and embracing ripe old age, they might find new inspiration for the kinds of songs that colored theirs and my youth. They never received the sort of wide acclaim they truly deserved. I feel robbed of what might still have been --like when John Lennon was shot. They have always deserved greater fame and fortune.
When I began to listen to Heartbeats, I thought I should write to the sisters and tell them how much their music had colored my life as an artist through the years, because I felt it was just that important and I was so grateful for their creativity. Now I can't do that. Heartbeats Accelerating has an even more overwhelming poignancy for me now.
I may not be able to play "I Eat Dinner" again.