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

Department of Culture

From the Department of Culture website:

In a free state, all is related and each element leads to another; legislation, commerce, industry, the arts, the sciences, letters are all part of the same body – le corps social … When there is an abuse in one part, the whole social body will be more or less paralysed….

– Sir Wilfred Laurier in 1871

The Department of Culture is a growing community of Canadian citizens who are artists, arts professionals and cultural workers concerned about ensuring the social and cultural health and prosperity of our nation in the face of a Federal Government that is aggressively undermining the values that define Canada.

We are the painters, architects, dancers, writers, actors, designers, filmmakers, sculptors, performers, photographers, ceramicists, directors, curators, musicians, archivists, fashion designers, producers, weavers, choregraphers, editors…

In the impending election, the DOC will support Swing Teams of committed artists and individuals to collaborate and intervene directly in the election and, in a very public, serious, fun and spectacular way, to target vulnerable Conservatives in the so-called swing ridings in which the sitting MP holds a slim majority. If a Conservative MP has a seat, a Swing Team will try to take it away, if a Conservative looks close to getting a seat, a Swing Team will ensure that they never get to sit down. The Department of Culture is focusing its first energies on Jim Flaherty Member of Parliament for Whitby-Oshawa, Finance Minister and Minister Responsible for the GTA and another near-by yet-to-be-determined incumbent. The Swing Teams will use their imagination, their wit, their community resources, their political savvy and their artistic skills to create and distribute an abundance of graphic materials, videos, postcards and other creative materials. These will all focus on the shortcomings of the Conservative Party of Canada, Stephen Harper, and the Conservative candidate running in specific ridings. The Swing Teams will not necessarily work to promote other parties but rather through their actions, they hold other parties and candidates answerable for their social and cultural agendas.

The Department of Culture will make Swing Team kits available on our website that can be used as templates in other ridings across the country. As we continue to organize, we will further our partnerships with like-minded initiatives across the country. We will also post photos, videos, graphics and stories on our website and on our Facebook page.

Canadians are invited to produce and submit a 30 second video spot in a national contest in response to the Conservative government’s dramatic dismantling of arts, cultural and social programs since 2006. Submissions will be posted on our website and reviewed by a panel of celebrity judges. There will also be a viewer’s choice award. Please consult our website at departmentofculture.ca for details about this campaign on or before 12 September 2008 for details.

Head on over to the Department of Culture website for more