Sunday, January 24, 2010


How could I have survived college without the McGarrigle sisters? Their records are nearly worn smooth, and the needle jumps around them as I listen now, 5 days after Kate’s passing.

Who else but Kate and Anna could have matched the torrent of my coming-of-age in the early 1980s, the emotional rollercoaster, the heartbreaks, the longing, the search for self and the search for a voice? Their music was large enough to contain all the passion of a twenty year-old living in New York City, asking all the big questions with nothing close to an answer.

It was pre-AIDS and post-sexual revolution, and I thought feminism was passé. In their plaintive voices and sweet harmonies, they sang of love, loss, and longing, the raw material of a young woman’s life.

I lost track of the McGarrigle sisters for a while as I went through the throes of motherhood, but reconnected with them when I discovered Rufus Wainwright, and a little later, Martha Wainwright. In their music, I could hear some of the strains of Kate. I loved the McGarrigle Hour album, and I pored over the family photos as if they were my own.

I put up photos and clippings of Kate and Anna and Rufus on my bulletin board, and my kids teased me about being “obsessed with that family.” The McGarrigle-Wainwrights serve as a mirror for me of my own aging, my own journey through family, where I’ve come from, where I may be going, and my own work as an artist.

Like me, Kate put her kids before her career. She could have made dozens of albums over her 40 year career, but only made 12. Just yesterday, gazing at her first album cover, I noticed the note on the bottom corner of the back, thanking someone for looking after “Little Rufus” while they were in the studio. NPR cited a story of Kate standing up a promoter to take her kids to a puppet show. I found a great clip of a documentary featuring young Kate and Anna and little toddling Martha and big brother Rufus.

She stuck close to home and did her own thing. She made music on her own terms, She wasn’t at all trendy. She just kept her own vibe strong and clear and we came to her.

And we still come to her, the music fresh as ever. For three nights now, I’ve been listening to her records and weeping. It’s as if each song was preparing us for her death, opening us up to her big heart, bringing us in, only to tell us she has to go.

May Kate McGarrigle always live on through her music. May her children soar and sing on her wings. Bless your heart and your music, Kate.

1 comment:

Hana said...

I just read your post re: Kate. It touched my heart. I could have written it myself and I'm 59. First heard Kate and Anna and Roma at the Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs NY when I volunteered there starting in 1966 (I was in highschool.)
I was also fascinated to see your photo wearing the mask while riding in a Rickshaw. I've been to Poone (Pune) many times,starting in 1971, as I always stayed there on the way to Ahmednagar (Meher Baba's ashram.) Love, Hana