Songs and Stories (alternate take)
This arrived today. A beautiful, oversized, 160 page treasury of Kate and Anna photos, stories, reviews, articles, a bit of history, and some songs. There are more photos of the girls than you could dream of but they’re a couple of good-looking gals and you can never have too many pictures of them. Many other folks show up here and there, as well.
I’m not sure how we all became pals. I know that I heard the Mountain City Four around town a few times at places like the Potpourri and the Finjan, before I met any of them. Jack Nissenson had been at Sir George Williams College when my brother Larry was there but that has nothing to do with anything. All Larry had to say about him was that he was an odd fellow, which meant I’d want to know this guy, and eventually I did. (He’s mentioned here, too, briefly.) It wasn’t long after these first days that I got my own place, the infamous pad at 55 Rue Guilbault Ouest. A day never went by that at least someone didn’t drop over and Kate and Anna, together or separately, visited regularly. Kate often wanted to hear this one track off an Alan Lomax anthology I had – The Sacred Harp Singers, I believe. I still have that record but it would take a year to find it. My place is no messier nowadays but there are more records. A lot more.
A couple of years later I was living on Rue Evans and Anna was my neighbour a few doors down the street in the “garret” she shared with Clara Horn. There’s a picture in the book of Anna in that place, sitting at that table, painting. She was a student at the École des Beaux-Arts then. Her picture of me, on the right, was taken for a photo class, I think. (I hope she got a good grade!)
After I’d been on the West Coast for a year, back there in that kitchen we cooked up a plan to put on a light show and dance at McGill which turned out to be a big hit. That adventure merits is own story and one day soon I’ll tell it. It was me, Kate, Anna, Clara, and Anna’s boyfriend, Dane Lanken (the author of this book) who put on this historical event. Carla Marcus may have been involved, too. Only Kate and I knew what the hell it was supposed to be. (She’d been in San Francisco maybe a year earlier.)
Who then knew where any of us would wind up? I don’t know. For me, all I considered for my future was to remain a bum and in this I feel I have succeeded beyond expectation. As for Kate and Anna, when they broke into song, as they would now and then, it should have been obvious that they were destined to become as beloved around the world as they are. Who came up with the description, “harmonies that glow in the dark”? It wasn’t about them but it could have been.
Forty years later I’m happy to count them among the few friends that have remained friends from those days, despite the years and distances. When I was a young bohemian, anarchist, nihilist, blacksmith, or whatever the fuck I was, I wouldn’t have predicted that in my sixties (as opposed to the sixties) I would come to cherish my enduring friendships and our families as much as anything.
Kate and Anna came to Vancouver again in 1999. Lily Lanken and Martha Wainwright (Anna’s and Kate’s daughters, respectively) were in the band and by coincidence Kate’s son, Rufus Wainwright, arrived the next day for a show, opening for Sloan at the Croatian Cultural Centre, and Martha stayed behind to perform with him. When I’d last seen Martha and Rufus, Rufus was about three and Martha just a few months old.
Anna gave me a copy of The McGarrigle Hour, just released. When I got home I played it endlessly over the following weeks. What moved me so deeply about this wonderful record was the unabashed familyness of the whole enterprise. Kate, Anna, kids, friends, husbands and ex-husbands. Fathers and daughters. And a whack of great songs. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can get this anymore but if you call me I’ll play it for you over the phone and we can have a good cry together.
Here are a few of the pictures that didn’t make it into the book, but are in my book.
Me, Kate, Martha, Anna, Lily in the alley behind Vancouver TV studio where the McGarrigles had been guests on the Vicki Gabereau show, by the van in which they were about to head south – to L.A. I think. On tour. Kate invited me to join them and why I didn’t would be a commentary on the changes over time to what had once been the guiding principle of my life: Never pass up a free ride.
Later that night Barbara and I went to the Croatian Cultural Centre to see them on stage. The place was absolutely jammed, shoulder to shoulder with kids, and nowhere to sit down. I have never, before or since, felt old at a musical event as I did then. I mean, we needed to sit down! If we could have danced we’d have been alright but, alas, no room to dance.
Now, about the next photo I am pretty confused. Martha played the Railway Club with her own band, Lily on backup vocals. I’m not sure when it was. That same year or the following year. Anyhow, Kate and Anna were coming through town – not to play, though – and they joined Barbara and me at Martha’s show. The few photos I took turned out terrible. Too much beer, I suppose. Cheap beer at the Railway Club so it’s easy to get too pissed for photography. In any event, this is about the best one of Martha and Lily on stage:
I think it might have been 2001 the last time I was in Montreal. It seems rather unbelievable but could be true, I guess. What the hell’s the matter with me? Anyway, following are a few pictures from that visit.
Anna and her husband, Dane Lanken. I gotta say that back in the early days of palling around on Evans Street, Dane and I didn’t exactly get along like a house on fire. I wouldn’t even mention this – it was long ago and who knows or remembers what went on in our minds in those heady days – but on this day in Alexandria he took off for town so Anna and I could have a bit of a hang and when he got back he was as gracious as could be and, I’m telling you, he’s one of the nicest guys I know. It was a memorable visit altogether.
And here’s my grandson, Jack. He hasn’t met any of these people, yet, and the only reason I include this photo is because it wound up on the same roll of film, when I was back home in Vancouver.
Some links for you:
And if you want to buy the book, get it at Penumbra Press. It’s not cheap, but it’s a gorgeous book and obviously a labour of love. Books like this don’t sell like, say, Madonna’s Sex. It’s probably a small run and therefore costs a lot to produce. If you love Kate and Anna McGarrigle it’s worth it.