This week’s “show” is touched with sadness: Kate McGarrigle, aged 63, died only a few weeks ago after a long battle with a rare form of cancer. Sicily Scene was where I learned the sad news.
There is only one place to start and this is at the end: her last performance. On the 9th December 2009 she played piano and sang at the Royal Albert Hall with her family and friends in a concert, ”Not So Silent Night”.
This is Kate’s new and haunting song which she performed in London. In my ignorance, I had never heard of Proserpina and so I had to look up Wikipedia to find out.
“Myth of a Springtime
Venus, in order to bring love to Pluto, sent her son Amor also known as Cupid to hit Pluto with one of his arrows. Proserpina was in Sicily (an island outside of Italy), at the Pergusa Lake near Enna, where she was playing with some nymphs and collecting flowers, when Pluto came out from the volcano Etna with four black horses …. He abducted her in order to marry her and live with her in Hades …. of which he was the ruler. Notably, Pluto was also her uncle …. She is therefore Queen of the Underworld.
Her mother Ceres, the goddess of agriculture or of the Earth, went looking for her in vain to every corner of the earth, but wasn't able to find anything but a small belt that was floating upon a little lake (made with the tears of the nymphs). In her desperation Ceres angrily stopped the growth of fruits and vegetables, bestowing a malediction on Sicily. Ceres refused to go back to Mount Olympus and started walking on the Earth, making a desert at every step.
Worried, Jupiter sent Mercury to order Pluto (Jupiter's brother) to free Proserpina. Pluto obeyed, but before letting her go he made her eat six pomegranate seeds, because those who have eaten the food of the dead could not return to the world of the living. This meant that she would have to live six months of each year with him, and stay the rest with her mother. This story was undoubtedly meant to illustrate the changing of the seasons; When Ceres welcomes her daughter back in the spring the earth blossoms, and when Proserpina must be returned to her husband it withers.”
Initially I was put off by the start of the song but then I relaxed and ….. listened and ……
Less than 6 weeks later Kate had left us but what a song to leave for us.
I fell in love with the McGarrigle’s music at the start of their recording life but this was a long long way into their musical life. The McGarrigle sisters (Kate, Anna – the recording sisters – and Jane) were born in Montreal and brought up surrounded by music.
“Music was always there at home,” Kate McGarrigle said in a 1997 interview in Sing Out! magazine. “At parties, somebody would get up and sing, and my father would accompany them and sing the harmony. There were lots of friends and uncles and each would get up and give their big song.”
Heart Like A Wheel
We move on with a track from their first album. This was Anna’s first song which was also covered by Linda Ronstadt whose album carried the song as its title.
Quite a song for a first!
The music of the McGarrigles will live on not only through their own music but through that of Kate’s children, Rufus and Martha Wainright, with Loudon Wainwright III.
Next up is a lovely version of Stephen Foster’s famous 150 year-old song.
Hard Times Come Again No More
This song starts with the lines,
“Let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears,
While we all sup sorrow with the poor;”
The video is from the Transatlantic Sessions and features Kate, Anna, Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, Mary Black and two Scots, Karen Matheson and Rod Paterson.
If you watched this on YouTube You may have noticed this comment,
“All these wonderful singers and harmonies but it still feels like Kate's song ....”
I Eat Dinner
We return now to one of their own songs, another song whose setting is so simple – eating dinner – but whose words bring home the heartbreak of lost love.
Kate is like Eric Bogle, able to conjure up images which go way beyond the apparent simplicity of their words.
Complainte pour Ste-Catherine
I haven’t a clue what this song is about but I have always liked it’s bouncy nature.
Oh, by the way, I know even less about the video.
If you have any thoughts about the words or the video please let me know.
Only two more songs now so you should be getting towards the end of your coffee.
Kitty Come Home
This is another beautiful song by Anna for her sister who is having some relationship problems. “Home, Kitty Come Home”
Sisterly love! Beautiful.
With the last song now we return and remember Kate’s recent death. Here is the song chosen as a tribute to Kate at Sicily Scene although with a different video.
Talk to Me of Mendocino
This describes the journey from New York, her home from home, to Mendocino in California. I hadn’t heard of Mendocino other than it was in California but three lines give the clue.
“Rise up over the Rockies and down on into California
Out to where but the rocks remains
And let the sun set on the ocean.”
A quick look on Google Earth shows the most amazing setting
and does this not fit the words perfectly!
Enough of my words.
I have loved the music of the McGarrigles for more than 30 years and this I shall continue to do despite Kate’s leaving.
Kate McGarrigle 6 Feb 1946 – 18 Jan 2010
Thank you, Kate
Well, that’s it for another week. Tune in again next week and thanks for listening.