Thursday, March 02, 2006


It was a January Monday early evening somewhere in the snowdrift confines of a Montreal in the late 1970's. A major storm had blown through that weekend, so the snow was just barely gray when I was walking east on Sherbrooke St. toward McGill’s campus. A tuque of minimal fashion sense was pulled down hard over my ears and over one eye, allowing me to do a pirate one-eyed gaze for available footing. I side-stepped the mini snow machines that roved up and the down the main streets, like ironclad beetles bumping here against a supporting wall, there against the newspaper boxes. The wind was high as were the snowflakes flying parallel to the ground. Big fat juicy ones that stuck on my beard, backpack and any piece of clothing I was wearing made from denim or khaki. Looking around, I saw other equally white shadows shuffling along through the moguls on the sidewalks. What sounds I heard were limited to my own snowstep squeaks and the metal-on-concrete tick-tacking of the snow-clearing mini-bulldozers.

Stopping at one corner, I was head-dinged by an audio cassette. A snowball would have been expected as the temptation to hurl one would have halted at least one person's trek. Even a wave of churned snow lapping over from the street as the snow plows steamed by would not have been as big of a surprise. But a cassette, complete with a box? Not a usual snow incident suspect. After rubbing the pate and checking for blood, I bent over to see what had hit me. I brushed the snow off the little plastic container and then did a 360 spin in search of the thrower. I cocked my arm back in search of a target. The blowing snow provided a curtain of escape for the thrower...if there ever was one. I was walking past the Musical Arts building of McGill at the time. It could simply have been the strong wind blowing tunes in my general direction. (Or it could have been the fine throwing arm of the spirit of Kate McGarrigle who had attended McGill University to study engineering in the 1960's while her sister, Anna, studied painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Montreal.)

This was my introduction to the McGarrigle Sisters, the haunting singer-songwriters of Province Quebec. The cassette-upside-the-head was their 1976 first album simply titled Kate & Anna McGarrigle.

Heartbreak Song # 8 will not be from this album, but from their 1990 release,Heartbeats Accellerating.

I Eat Dinner (When the Hunger's Gone) is a study in minimalism. An economy of description for this sinking-into-the-abyss song.

Kate McGarrigle starts with:

I eat dinner at the kitchen table
(End of the day, usual time for the only family get-together when the day’s happenings can be shared and bantered about)
With my daughter who is thirteen (implying an imminent departure (by Martha Wainwright) when she’s fully of age and then I'll be completely...alone)
We eat leftovers and mashed potatoes
(never thought of mashed potatoes as The Lonely Vegetable, until this song)
No more candlelight
No more romance
(Twist the knife)
No more small talk
(Not even a crumb of human kindness)
When the hunger's gone
(Tone is set. Can't get lower, right?)

Never thought than I'd end up this way
I who loved the sparks
Never thought my hair'd be turning to grey
It used to be so dark
So dark

Instrumentation is minimal with Kate's spare voice a strong instrument by itself, going through you with the chill of Les Suetes. If you ever find yoursefl too happy for your own good, put this cd on and the earth will quickly come crashing down on you.

Note Bene:
Her son, Rufus Wainwright , born out of her joint venture with Loudon Wainwright III, did a little re-writing of the song when he performed it, specifically in the first section, making "I Eat Dinner" even sadder than his mother had intended.

"I eat dinner at the kitchen table
By the light that switches on
I eat leftovers with mashed potatoes
No more candlelight, no more romance, no more small talk
When the hunger's gone"

He doesn't even bother with the presence of another person. Misery of Oneness.

(This is #8 of Ten Heartbreakers as memed by Whisky Prajer)

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Your Road to Damascus via a Snowstorm in Montreal experience seems incredible to me, but no more fantastic than Louden III's ability to sire musical genius for yet another generation. Am I mistaken, or is Martha W. not a "McGarrigle" as well? In which case, it seems "Wainwright" is the name the kids are banking on for their own fame and (meagre) fortune.
Mr. Wainwright the Third is one busy, busy guy. In addition to Martha & Rufus McGarrigle (if you will), he has fathered, with Suzzy Roche (yes, of the fabulous New Jersey singing Roches, lucyy Wainwright. There is also Alexandra Wainwright, who resulted with a meeting of the..uhmm. minds of himself and Ritamarie Kelly (not sure if she's a singer or artist). Here's a list of his family history.

My ever-loving wife calls him the magnificent bastard. Magnificent becasue of the absolutely heart-stuttering songs he writes. Bastard 'cuz....well, that one's self-explanatory.

I'm assuming the kids took on "Wainwright" for the moolah that they probably felt was due them. If it's not going to be the money, perhaps it will be their songwriting skills that will be their just revenge. MArtha just put out Bloody Mother F***ing Asshole, not exactly what a dad would be leaping in joy about....
p.s. WP, if you link to that Wainwright info site, you'll notice he attended St Andrew's in Middletown, DE, just down the road a bit. He still holds several football scoring records, although the legned has it that he truly starting scoring in the local towns, thereby setting his relationship pattern for the balance of his days.

St. Andrew's| may ring some bells. It was the setting for the filming of Dead Poet's Society.

Wainwright is just another Kevin Bacon when it comes to making life's connections.
"he truly started scoring in the local towns" - I'll bet he did! Forget 'Six Degrees': we'll be lucky if we've more than two (get your wife to copyright that phrase, and quick)!
Stumbled on this blog while googling about Rufus' cover of his mom. I think his lyric changes make the meaning much more generic, and frankly, I can't really get with him lamenting his hair turning grey. The original lyrics, sung as they are from a middle-aged single mother's point of view, contain much more genuine despair. Shoot, lots of people consider grey hair on men to be sexy!
Thanks for the stopover. Yes, grey hair (as opposed to disappearing hair..of nay hue) is fine on men and, IMHO, also on a lot of women (certainly more attractive than multi-colored roots). As for the lamenting....well, I agree with you that Rufus has things to lament about, but his personal appearance certainly isn;t one on the lament list.
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