I’m wondering why I was moved to tears so many times at Town Hall last night as Martha and Rufus Wainwright and Anna McGarrigle led their family in performing the songs of their mother/sister, Kate McGarrigle who died of a rare cancer, Sarcoma, earlier this year. I knew Kate and liked her, she stayed in my attic guestroom in Philadelphia long before her children were born, when she performed at The Main Point. I loved her music as she developed it with her sister over the following years, and I did album covers with her husband, Loudon, the father of Rufus and Martha. I was deeply saddened by the news of her premature death, but then I was deeply moved by the excellence of the performance last night, the singing was heavenly, not only from the invited guests who included Emmy Lou Harris and Nora Jones, but from the family itself, multiple generations, cousins, uncles, mothers, sisters, and brothers, who brought with them to the stage the choral tradition of their native Quebec. I was also moved by the quality of Kate’s songwriting, she wrote about what was happening around her in a direct and feeling way, right up to her last days when she scratched out on Garage Band her final opus, Proserpina, which invokes Greek mythology to muse on the the coming of winter, of ice, of frozen death in the context of the repeating cycle of seasons. Her daughter Martha, having recently birthed a granddaughter for Kate, sang playful songs of summer Kate wrote in those other seasons of her life.
But I think what moved me most about the concert last night was the absence of a central organizing ego crying out for attention (the hidden agenda of so much art including my own), it was simply a gift, and open hand, a eulogy in her own words performed by those who loved her. Clean, clear, and innocent. Pure Kate. Wow Mom, thanks.