Wednesday, January 20, 2010

LOST ONES

The first time I heard of Kate and Anna McGarrigle was in 1990. I was the editor of Applause, the weekly entertainment supplement to the Independent Florida Alligator, the University of Florida's school newspaper, and one day, a cassette of the sisters' first new album in eight years, Heartbeats Accelerating, arrived in the mail.

I'm not sure why I stuck it into my cassette player. I received so much music every week, all of it hoping to be reviewed (well, actually, the people who sent it were hoping for it to be reviewed), and usually I only paid attention to the ones by well-known artists or the ones with nice pretty covers. The McGarrigle sisters were not particularly famous, although they had written some of the best songs of the '70s, '80s and even '90s (more on those later), and the cover was a colorless close-up of two middle-aged women who looked like sisters, maybe even twins.

But I was intrigued. I pressed play, and I fell in love. In these pre-Internet days, before Wikipedia, I had no idea what these ladies had been up to all my life. A few years later, I got another dose of the McGarrigles via the opening song on Linda Ronstadt's 1993 album, Winter Light. It was a cover of the title track of Heartbeats Accelerating, written by Anna, which didn't quite match the McGarrigles' delicate, inimitable version, but it came pretty close. My very first boyfriend, Pietro, who had discovered it independently of me and adored it, used to listen to it with me in bed.

Around this time, I began my still-ongoing Linda Ronstadt phase and discovered that some of her best songs had been written by Kate or Anna McGarrigle. There was the title track of her landmark 1974 album, Heart Like A Wheel, written by Anna, and Kate's beautiful, haunting "I've Had Enough," covered on Trio, Ronstadt's 1988 collaboration with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.

Kate, in particular, had equally talented connections. Her ex-husband was singer-songwriter Loudon Wainright III, with whom she had two children, Martha and Rufus (above, with his mom), both of whom have had success in the family business.

On Monday, January 18, Kate died at age 63, after a long battle with clear cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Dim all the lights. We've lost another great.

Kate & Anna McGarrigle "I Eat Dinner" (written by Kate)

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