R.I.P.: Kate McGarrigle

January 20, 2010

I mourn today the sad passing of Kate McGarrigle, the Canadian singer-songwriter beloved for the records she made with her sister Anna and also the mother of singer-songwriters Rufus Wainwright and Martha Wainwright. See a lovely tribute to her online on the CBC website here.

I loved the McGarrigles from the very beginning of their career, when Linda Ronstadt and Maria Muldaur started recording their songs (Anna’s “Heart Like a Wheel” and Kate’s “The Work Song”). I got to meet and interview them in Boston at the time of their first album (1975). I was just a kid, still in college, and they were still largely unknown, nervous and shy. I interviewed them in their tiny hotel room, where we sat on the twin beds and talked.  I saw the McGarrigles play live for the first time at the Inn Square Men’s Bar in Cambridge, which was not much bigger than my living room is now. The stage was crammed with several musicians (including Dane Lanken and Chaim Tannenbaum) and tons of instruments. After every song, everybody switched instruments, taking turns on guitar, banjo, fiddle, accordion, and concertina. Brilliant show. I saw them numerous times over the years, at clubs and concert halls, most recently at Town Hall for the tour that accompanied the fantastic family songbook, The McGarrigle Hour. I reviewed almost all their albums over the years, for the Boston Phoenix, Rolling Stone, and the Village Voice.

Then when Rufus hit the scene, wherever I saw him, Kate was always hovering nearby: at a mini-show and CD signing in the basement of the old A Different Light bookstore on 19th Street…at Fez…at the Supper Club. I didn’t see his Judy Garland show at Carnegie Hall, but there was Mom, playing piano while he sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

She left behind a lot of great music. I’m a big fan of French Record, but for the sake of remembrance I just put on Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and it made me happy to think about this fantastic musician. Ever heard it? Check out “Kiss and Say Goodbye” here.

One Response to “R.I.P.: Kate McGarrigle”

  1. David Says:

    “Kiss and Say Goodbye” was my favorite song on that album. I responded to the album immediately, but it still confounded me, which was part of their particular brilliance.

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