It was, if memory serves, the Fall of 1981. I was a second-year undergraduate at McGill. I was listening to lots and lots of punk, a bit of reggae and dub, and smatterings of old-school bands like the Stones (not the Beatles, I hasten to add!). I had by that point abjured my youthful forays into prog rock. I could not imagine ever willingly listening to anything that might even remotely be characterized as folk.

I’d been trying for weeks to attract the attention of a young woman in my aesthetics class. When she suggested we attend a concert by the McGarrigle sisters together, the above-mentioned musical principle went out the window. Of course, I’d love to, I said, madly bluffing because, truth be told, I had never heard of the McGarrigles at that point.

I can’t for the life of me remember where the concert was held. Could it have been the Yellow Door? Somewhere on campus? Nor can I remember the name of the young woman I attended the concert with. (It was to be our one and only date).

I do remember settling into my seat with a smug, superior attitude, thinking that an hour or so of light, pleasant but boring music would be a small price to pay in order to win over the object of my romantic intentions.

Things began inauspiciously. The sisters walked on stage with a few musicians, launched into a song, and promptly stopped, deciding that the tuning had not been done properly. Much chattering and joking ensued. A few minutes later, they began in earnest.

It was for me the musical equivalent of a sucker-punch. When Anna’s voice began weaving with Kate’s, I felt myself drawn in, fascinated by the symbiosis. Both singers had decent voices, but together they were able to do amazing things. They seemed to know one another so well. There was complete trust between them, trust that allowed each of them to go out on limbs vocally, knowing that the other would know how to follow. It was thrilling. I snuck out the next day to purchase their beautiful first record, which included songs such as “Heart Like A Wheel”, “Mendocino”, and “Complainte pour Sainte Catherine”. I was reassured that my punk bona fides would not be completely undercut when I found out that the influential British music mag Melody Maker had named it record of the year back in 1975.

I never saw the sisters in concert again. Not until last Fall, that is, when Emmylou Harris called them out to do a few numbers with her at her Théatre Saint-Denis gig, mid-set and then again for the encore. Kate looked frail, but when she and Anna began to sing, their harmonies were as pure and magical as they had been close to 30 years previous. Emmylou, no slouch herself in the vocal department, was visibly moved by the McGarrigles’ performance. They made everything else that evening sound earthbound and predictable.

I heard somewhere that Anna had said that she couldn’t imagine going on singing after her sister’s death. I hope she does, because her voice is beautiful in its own right, and to think that the world will no longer hear a rendition of “Heart like a Wheel” sung by its composer is just too sad for words. But I understood immediately why she thought that she might not be able to. Anna and Kate sang together for something like half a century. Listening to them sounded very much like listening to a single being. The sound they produced was much, much more than the sum of its considerable parts. They could through their harmonies express yearning and joy more thoroughly than either one could ever hope to on her own.

If I had to give someone a sense of what Montreal sounds and feels like, I would (among other things) play them some Kate and Anna. For the obvious linguistic reasons, of course but for reasons more ineffable as well. Something about the McGarrigles embodies our city at its best, the way we would all want it to be always. Strolling through our city on an early Spring day, “Complainte pour Sainte-Catherine” will find its way into my head, and I’ll feel happy.

Posted Sunday, January 24th, 2010 at 10:24 pm
Filed Under Category: Uncategorized
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Responses to “So Long, Kate”

marianne ackerman

Daniel,thanks for the memory. I feel the same way. A friend from Amsterdam send me condolences, and I didn’t know Kate personally. The overused word ICON fits her. I remember attending one of her son’s first public performances at Cafe Serijavo, Kate sitting in the back row shouting out, “more bass, Rufus”. He was playing his famous song about her, and happily took direction. Thanks for this piece!

Refinance & Mortgage

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Kylie Batt

Едва могу тому верить….

осуществления импортеры It was, if memory serves, the Fall of 1981. I was a second-year undergraduate at McGill…..

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