folk music

Timeless: “Love vigilantes”

“Love vigilantes” came around on my ITunes while I was fixing dinner. A Laura Cantrell song I must have downloaded ages ago, but only tonight popped into the foreground. It was haunting, about a homesick soldier who finally gets his “leave” and flies home–to find his wife on the floor clutching a telegram that “said that I was a brave, brave men but that I was dead.” It was strangely familiar, but weirdly hard to pinpoint, as if from some distant era. World War I? The Korean War? Vietnam?

Actually you only have to go back to 1985. The band: New Order. I didn’t recognize this stripped-down version. I had heard it countless times before, but never, to my shame, paid much attention to the lyrics. At first I thought Persian Gulf War, but the years didn’t line up. The Falklands seems the most likely, though it could be any war.

It took Laura Cantrell (much beloved of John Peel, who of course also loved New Order) to find the beautiful, sad, ghostly ballad inside New Order’s Wall o’ Sound.

What an unearthly, powerful song, in both versions.

New Order, live in Japan 1985

Laura Cantrell, 2008

The Chieftains and Ry Cooder make an album about los san patricios

The Chieftains, in collaboration with Ry Cooder, Los Tigres del Norte, Linda Ronstadt and Van Dyke Parks, will release San Patricio on March 9. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the San Patricios (as I was), they were “a downtrodden group of Irish immigrant conscripts who deserted the U.S. Army in 1846 to fight on the Mexican side against the invading Yankees in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).”

Below is Part One of a six-part documentary on the subject by Mark R. Day.

Also, from what I can gather, Howard Zinn discusses los san patricios in The Stories Hollywood Never Tells audio book.

Thanks to Chris Floyd, who has a great site and who pointed this out….

Kate McGarrigle’s family remembers her

These tributes from Kate’s children, Rufus and Martha, and her sister and musical partner Anna were frank, touching and funny.


She was a magical woman, one foot in another world, a great songwriter, performer and bohemian, and she was surrounded, as she was dying, by family and friends. My father was there. Emmylou Harris was there. We sang to her as she lay there, in fact that certainly might have made her go that little bit faster.

As we were having this jamboree, her breathing became more laboured and she made a moaning noise. One of the nurses said this could go on for four days and we had already exhausted the back catalogue! Then Kate breathed a little differently, it was like she was saying, “Hold on, I’m going to end this show” and she died. I was looking right into her face, her eyes were open, and my aunt Jane was holding her hand. It was an amazing experience.


I’m very shaken from losing my sister and closest friend, although last week we had a little spat. She loved fresh fruit and we had bought her some grapes, which I called “those little sacks of fluid”. Maybe it’s the way I said it, because she snapped at me: “Why do you always see the bad in things?” Maybe she associated it with the state of her lungs. I lost it, we had words, and I left and then apologised the next day. It was all fine again.

… Kate was one of the finest songwriters: her soul told her hands what to do. The song she wrote for Martha, which she performed at the Albert Hall, Proserpina, makes me cry. It’s amazing. For me, she’ll always be a contradiction: the widely read sophisticate who loved mixing with the high-end crowd with Rufus, and the rustic character, never happier than when riding an old bike, or cross-country skiing or knitting Scandinavian sweaters.

More tributes at the Montreal Gazette.  And here is that final, moving performance of “Proserpina“:

Kate McGarrigle “departs in a haze of song and love”

So sad. This one hurts, and I’ve only ever seen Kate McGarrigle in concert once, with her sister of course, and daughter Martha and Emmylou Harris, who flew from Nashville to New York just for that show. It was an intimate and ever so tuneful evening (actually, afternoon), with much wry banter. I felt like I had been invited into the parlor of  an eccentric, funny family of musical geniuses (which they were). Kate was just 63.

The site has this simple announcement:

Sadly our sweet Kate had to leave us last night. She departed in a haze of song and love surrounded by family and good friends. She is irreplaceable and we are broken-hearted. Til we meet again dear sister. ♡

The CBC has an excellent retrospective here with numerous video clips, including two from her final appearance at the Royal Albert Hall last year:

The descriptors “Canadian icon” and “national treasure” are often used as lazy shorthand to refer to those artists who’ve made some sort of impact on our country’s music scene. But Kate McGarrigle was one of the awe-inspiring few who truly deserved those epithets — and then some. McGarrigle, who passed away Monday after a drawn-out battle with clear cell sarcoma (she was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer in 2006), was one of Canada’s legendary voices, a woman who celebrated and elevated the rich history of our country’s musical traditions throughout a career that spanned more than three decades.

Vanity Fair has Songs in the Key of Lacerating, a lengthy piece on the many twists and turns of the McGarrigle/Wainwright family saga.

And there is this priceless mockumentary by Rufus and Martha about their mothers’ scheme for world domination via folk music.

Way too soon. What a tragedy, but departing in a haze of song and love surrounded by family and good friends. That’s a good thing. We should all be so lucky when the time comes.

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