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Kate McGarrigle’s setting sun

The singer-songwriter’s own words are a fitting memorial


 

Although we’re sometimes resentful and overwrought concerning our neighbour, we Canadians, in our more reflective moments, are also capable of observing the United States with surprising tenderness.

This thought crosses my mind as I learn of the death of Kate McGarrigle, one of our finest songwriters. My favourite McGarrigle composition is “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” which belongs on a short list with “America the Beautiful” and “This Land Is Your Land” as alternative American national anthems.

The song takes us from “the state of old New York,” where one imagines the Montreal girl getting her first taste of the great big U.S.A., across the “western plain” to the California coast of the title.

Now that I think of it, I have to take back my suggestion that it serve as an anthem. National songs are supposed to be rousing. The westward journey of “Talk to Me of Mendocino” ends in resignation, with that old poetic standby, the identification of the rising and setting of the sun with the cycle of life and death:

And let the sun set on the ocean
I will watch it from the shore.
Let the sun rise over the redwoods.
I’ll rise with it till I rise no more.

Those lines are less anthem than hymn. They could be sung at a memorial.



 

Kate McGarrigle’s setting sun

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