Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Jan 21st 2010 4:30PM by Susan Parkou Weinstein
Susan Parkou Weinstein is a Boston-based journalist. Originally from Montreal, she became friends with Kate and Anna when the McGarrigle Sisters were still students and just starting their folk career. Kate McGarrigle passed away on January 18, leaving behind her footsteps-following children, Rufus and Martha Wainwright.
I first met Kate McGarrigle in the ladies room of a science building at McGill University. She said she was studying engineering and we laughed about the unorthodox career choice for a woman in the 1960s.
The next time I saw her, I heard her.
Kate and her sister Anna were performing with the Mountain City Four at a Montreal folk club. But there were only two people on stage for me that night. The sisters sang in French and English in harmonies that were both raw and ethereal. Their voices soared and ached and transformed even the simplest lyrics into poetry. I can still hear Kate singing 'Rose Blanche.'
My boyfriend at the time was into the folk scene and he is still very good friends with McGarrigle family. We spent our college days -- along with Kate and Anna and their Mountain City Four bandmates Chaim Tannenbaum and Jack Nissenson -- at Montreal clubs when people like Jesse Fuller, Paul Butterfield, Rev. Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk and so many other folk and bluegrass greats came to town. It was a great scene but the McGarrigles were still unique and I was so thrilled when they finally recorded.After college, I left Montreal but I never left Kate and Anna.
I took them with me to London and Vancouver and eventually to Boston. From the time they released their first album in 1975, 'Kate and Anna McGarrigle,' I hunted the music stores of strange cities in search of their music. I was the exiled "Canadien errant" of the 19th century ballad and they were my cure for a homesickness that surpassed place and time.
Their songs embodied everything I loved about life and spoke to my every moment of heartache and joy. I played their records when my daughter was growing up, dancing around our rambling New England house with their music in my head: 'V'la L'Bon Vent,' 'First Born,' 'Come a Long Way.'
I could never describe their unique and eclectic style to those not in the know. I could never explain how I could blot out a dreary day with 'Complainte pour Ste. Catherine.' Or why I could be so inspired every time I listened to Kate's 'Talk to Me of Mendocino.'
I saw Kate and Anna only a few times after I moved away from Montreal.
I met them at their hotel when they played in Winnipeg. I was in the audience when they performed to a sold-out crowd at Harvard University's Sanders Theater in late 1999. It was just after the release of 'The McGarrigle Hour' and their grand entourage of musical friends and family filled the hall with what could only be described as musical rapture.
Their fans cheered and applauded passionately before and after each number.
And when Kate touched her fingers to the piano keys, closed her eyes and whispered the first notes of her song, her voice was as plaintive and poignant as the first time I heard her sing in that tiny folk club in Montreal. I was home.
Backstage with my husband and daughter, Kate greeted me with a hug. We talked casually about our lives and children and mutual friends and then said goodbye.
I was sure I would catch up to her again.