Heart Like a Wheel

It was with shock and great sadness that I read of Kate McGarrigle’s death this morning.  Hers was the music of my life.  From Things That Go Pop at CBC:

The descriptors “Canadian icon” and “national treasure” are often used as lazy shorthand to refer to those artists who’ve made some sort of impact on our country’s music scene. But Kate McGarrigle was one of the awe-inspiring few who truly deserved those epithets — and then some. McGarrigle, who passed away Monday after a drawn-out battle with clear cell sarcoma (she was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer in 2006), was one of Canada’s legendary voices, a woman who celebrated and elevated the rich history of our country’s musical traditions throughout a career that spanned more than three decades.

Though Kate and sister Anna McGarrigle may have viewed themselves as “accidental” recording artists, it was clear from the outset that the pair were unique talents. Raised in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, the McGarrigles were originally introduced to French cabaret chansons, French-Canadian folk music and jazzy standards as children — their family was given to cozy group singalongs around the piano. Kate and Anna honed their own piano skills at the elbows of nuns; later, they would make a career out of performing a fresh variation on the homey, honest music of their youth in folk clubs and on recordings.

Shortly after she gave birth to son Rufus Wainwright (one of two children she had with singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III), Kate and her sister were recruited to contribute backing vocals to a version of Anna McGarrigle’s Cool River that was being covered by another folk artist (Maria Muldaur). By some twist of fate, the right set of ears heard magic in those McGarrigle harmonies and offered the pair a record deal. And in 1976, Kate and Anna McGarrigle released their self-titled debut album, an enchanting collection of old-fashioned folk songs. It was immediately lauded by fans and critics. The New York Times and the music magazine Melody Maker named Kate and Anna McGarrigle one of the year’s best albums.

The album even included one tune, the arch Complainte pour Ste. Catherine, in which the two neatly encapsulated the sighs of a ’70s-era Montrealer in wry Québecois French:

“Moi, j’me promene sur Ste Catherine / J’profite d’la chaleur du métro / J’ne regarde pas dans les vitrines / Quand il fait trente en d’ssous d’zero.” (“Me, I walk along St. Catherine [street] / Getting the warmth from the Metro / I don’t look in shop windows / When it’s 30 below zero.”)

That these two unassuming sisters from Quebec could bring such an idiosyncratic tune to the largely Anglophone masses (the late English singer Kirsty MacColl even covered Complainte in 1989) is a testament to the great gifts of Kate (and Anna) McGarrigle.

Kate used her music to share her appreciation for Acadian culture and the understated beauty of folk songs, but she also instilled those same values in her children. Both Rufus and Martha Wainwright have paid tribute to their mother in their own songs. It’s not uncommon for listeners to be privy to the intimate family portraits that appear in the work of sharp songwriters who draw inspiration from their own lives, but it’s rare that we are familiar with the parties depicted in song.  [more]

“Shall I nevermore behold you?/ Never hear thy laughing voice again.”

A bit more:

From Anna McGarrigle:

Sadly our sweet Kate had to leave us last night. She departed in a haze of song and love surrounded by family and good friends. She is irreplaceable and we are broken-hearted. Til we meet again dear sister. ♡

Update:  From Rufus

When inevitably I read today in the papers that my mother lost her battle with cancer last night, I am filled with an immense desire to add that this battle, though lost, was tremendously fruitful during these last three and a half years of her life. She witnessed her daughter’s marriage, the creation of my first opera, the birth of her first grandchild Arcangelo, and gave the greatest performance of her life to a packed crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Not to mention traveling to some of the world’s most incredible places with both my sister, her husband Brad, my boyfriend Jorn and myself. Yes, it was all too brief, but as I was saying to her sister Anna last night while sitting by her body after the struggle had ceased, there is never enough time and she, my amazing mother with whom everyone fell in love, went out there and bloody did it.  I will miss you mother, my sweet and valiant explorer, lebwohl and addio. X


RIP Nanao Sakaki

From a letter written by poet Gary Snyder:

“Last night I got word from Japan that Nanao Sakaki had suddenly died.  He was living with friends in the mountains of Nagano prefecture in a little cabin.  He had stepped out the door in the middle of the night to stargaze or pee and apparently had a severe heart attack.  His friends found him on the ground the next morning.  Christmas afternoon they’ll hold the otsuya  — intimate friends drinking party in his room, sitting with his body — and a cremation after that.  He was one of my best friends in this lifetime.” 


From the Allen Ginsberg Project

See also David-Baptiste Chirot

And Nanao Sakaki at About.com Poetry:

Read books
If you have time to read
Walk into mountain, desert and ocean
If you have time to walk
Sing Songs and dance
If you have time to dance
Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot

Odetta Rests


From NYT:

Rosa Parks, the woman who started the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., was once asked which songs meant the most to her. She replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”

Odetta sang at the march on Washington, a pivotal event in the civil rights movement, in August 1963. Her song that day was “O Freedom,” dating to slavery days: “O freedom, O freedom, O freedom over me, And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord and be free.”

Read the whole thing here

“The Midnight Special”

Ron Lancaster, Rest in Peace

Today, Ronnie Lancaster died of lung cancer.  He was diagnosed this summer.  I didn’t know he was sick.

When I was growing up, I liked to watch sports with my Dad on Saturday nights Sunday afternoons and evenings.  I’ll never be sure whether I really liked the sports watching or if I just did it so I could hang with my Dad.  In many ways, he was a typical “Dad” of my generation.  Maybe more so.  I don’t know.  My Mom stayed home and raised five kids.  Dad mostly worked.  He travelled on business and was away from home frequently.  He left for work earlier in the mornings than the Dads of my friends and he returned home much later at night.

I guess because my Mom had little time with him herself, they developed a pattern to their evenings.  Till we reached the age of 8 or so, we were in bed by 6:30 p.m.  That meant that we were trying to go to sleep when it was still light out and other kids were playing on the street during the late spring and early summer months.  It always meant that we were in bed before Dad got home.

As we got older, we were allowed to play outdoors with the other kids, or we were sent to the basement to play and watch tv till bedtime.  Mom and Dad would have a couple of gin and tonics (or more) and a nice dinner to themselves.  We weren’t allowed to come upstairs and we caught shit if we tried.  (This also meant that we often ate hot dog stew while they had steak and, later, that I had to do two sets of dinner dishes – ours and theirs – damn I hated that!)

Dad took few vacations.  Sometimes, we got to tag along on his business trips.  But that still didn’t mean spending much time with him, as he’d be out working the same hours, or longer because of the pressure to socialize with associates.

Like most kids, we missed him and grew to resent his absence when we realized it wasn’t quite typical – likely it didn’t help that he was highly stressed and rarely energetic enough to spend much time with us even when he was around.  He also suffered profoundly from stress-related illnesses that seemed to get the better of him when he wasn’t working.  He was very ambitious and status oriented.  He loved his work but he also loved being a “big shot”, which he was.  Knowing that he was having a good time and apparently not suffering when he wasn’t with us rankled.  Pissed Mom off too!  Maybe we competed for whatever free time he had.  It wasn’t a fair fight.

One of the things Dad did to relax in whatever free time he had was to watch hockey, football and baseball.  I do think I liked those games.  But I know for sure that what I liked most was hanging with Dad.  I asked a billion questions – “what’s ‘offside’ Dad?”, “what’s a ‘clipping’ penalty?”; “what’s a ‘force play’?” and a “conversion” and why isn’t the “punter” playing with the rest of them?

To give credit where credit is due, Dad was a good and patient teacher.  He liked my curiosity and he answered my questions carefully, even in the heat of battle on the ice or field.  I think he was kinda pleased that I seemed interested in “his” interests and that he had a daughter who knew her way around a quarterback sneak and a squeeze play.  I still enjoy knowing and watching this stuff with my sons, though I almost never watch on my own.  For me, it’s a “family thang”.

Ronnie Lancaster, and the whole CFL for that matter, were family.  I knew the names of all these guys and I had my favourites.  They were my rock stars before there were rock stars.  My faves weren’t always my Dad’s either, but he cared for my faves – pointed them out to me when they were coming on or going off the ice or field and kept me up-to-date on their goings on.  I remember Frank Mahovlich, Davie Keon, Willie Mays and Cookie Gilchrist.  I liked some of these guys for their toothless, boyish smiles, some for their quirky names and others for the way they played.  I didn’t like the dirty players, like Gordie Howe, and I didn’t like the ones who didn’t know how to be “gentlemen” when they weren’t playing, like poor Roger Maris.  I knew what it was to be a team player and a good sport.  There was no one worse than an individualist except a poor sport.

Ronnie Lancaster was the team player to end all team players.  There was no greater “gentleman”.  He was the best sport ever.  And damn, he was good at what he did.

I didn’t read the following news piece on Lancaster before writing my own remembrance.  Pretty amazing, how similar some of the comments are to my own:

The CFL has lost a legend, and Canada has lost a friend.

Ron Lancaster, 69, died Thursday morning after a short battle with lung cancer.

The former standout quarterback, who also had a long career as a head coach, administrator and television commentator, was diagnosed in late July and had been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Lancaster’s death has prompted CBCSports.ca readers to write in and share their memories of the CFL great.

Here’s just a small sample:

Reader from Regina: “Many are recalling Lancaster’s contributions to the CFL, but I wanted to share a personal anecdote. While still playing in Regina, Ron worked for several years as a phys-ed teacher at Regina’s Central Collegiate. Although it was a treat to have a celebrity as a teacher, there was also a downside. On occasion, the class engaged in a game of murder ball. God help you if Lancaster placed himself on the opposing team, as it was hard to avoid his throws. And when hit by his thrown ball, you knew it! He always seemed to take great delight in picking guys off.”

Reader from Calgary: “I loved watching Ron Lancaster play. His appearance was a far cry from the tall, strong-armed passers of today. Lancaster could roll out and scramble, he could hit any of his fleet of receivers and he used his skilled fullback, George Reed, to score points in bunches, and put up those impressive team win-loss records from 40 years ago.”

Reader from Calgary: “When I attended my first Stampeders game as a young boy, Calgary was leading in the fourth quarter and Lancaster calmly led the offence down the field for the winning score as time expired. I hated him at that moment but also realized how special he was. RIP Ronnie.”

Reader from Victoria: “All of Canada mourns the loss of Ron Lancaster. As a child growing up in Ottawa, I remember the glory days of the Ottawa Rough Riders in the early ’60s, when Ron and Russ Jackson made such a potent QB combination. After Ron was traded to the green Riders, we all still had a soft spot for him in our hearts. Such a wonderful, talented, classy guy — he will live on forever in the annals of Canadian football.”

Reader from Hamilton: “I have been following the CFL for 40 years. Ron Lancaster was a professional football player, coach, television analyst and, most of all, a fantastic person. I live in Hamilton and was proud to have Ron Lancaster associated with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ron brought class to our organization and I will always remember him as a person who brought such a great example of what class and humility is to the Canadian people.”

Reader from Winnipeg: “As a youth growing up in Winnipeg in the ’70s I have many fond memories of the games between our Prairie rivals, led by the immensely talented Ron Lancaster. As often as not, my dad would be pacing the floor and cursing at the Bombers’ inability to contain the Little General.”

Reader from Hamilton: “My earliest football memories are of the player (Ron Lancaster), my mother (born in Saskatchewan) and my dad (an ardent Ticat fan). Watching the ’72 Grey Cup here in Hamilton between the Riders and Cats was tense in our house. But Ron found his way to Hamilton and we, like the people of Saskatchewan and Edmonton, will regard him as one of our own. A great player, coach and a greater person. Goodbye, Ron.”

Reader from Regina: “Ron Lancaster exemplified the style and grace of the golden age of the CFL. I think it would be appropriate to retire No. 23 league wide, as a small token of respect.”

Reader from Campbell River, B.C.: “Like many Canadians, I spent years watching Ron Lancaster in the CFL, first as a quarterback. His partnership with George Reed and the Saskatchewan Roughriders was unforgettable. His years as a broadcaster added a layer of class to his analysis of teams, players and plays that has not been matched since his departure. He was a very fine gentleman, a first-rate quarterback and superb commentator at games.”

Reader from Hamilton: “I was just a young lad then, but I’ll remember him most for the Grey Cup battles with the Tiger-Cats in the ’60s, or sneaking my transistor radio into bed to listen to the night games in Saskatchewan.”   from CBC

Farewell Ron Lancaster.  We’ve lost a good man and a good sport.  Rock on 23!

Check out CBC “Life and Times” for more on ‘The Little General’


The Hamilton Spectator


Richard Monette

A champion and hero of theatre in Canada, Richard Monette has died much too soon.  Rest in peace Richard.  The Globe‘s tribute to Monette is here and Richard Ouzounian’s column at The Star is here.

What laughing chains the water wove and threw!
I learned to catch the trout’s moon whisper; I
Drifted how many hours I never knew,
But, watching, saw that fleet young crescent die,—

And one star, swinging, take its place, alone,
Cupped in the larches of the mountain pass —
Until, immortally, it bled into the dawn.
I left my sleek boat nibbling margin grass. . . 

from “The Dance”, The Bridge, by Hart Crane