Sat Jan 21 , the day after the inauguration, the country was reeling into marching mode. Eric and I were getting ready to drive down to NYC to participate in the women’s march when I saw a post by Suzzy Roche that her sister Maggie had died. It took my breath away. I couldn’t put into words how much she gave me and the world in general. I sent Suzzy (who I’ve been lucky to meet a few times) my condolences and went on to the march.
I’m a musician who writes songs and at one time sang harmonies in an all-female trio. The Shams would have existed without me hearing the Roches and specifically Maggie’s Hammond Song, but there’s no doubt what I felt the first time I listened to that indelible piece of art changed the arc of my explorations – you think you know what you’re doing: pop music , punk, country harmonies, check – you’re working on combining styles into something of your own – and then to hear something that breaks all the containers: the combination of the three Roche sisters singing, Maggie’s song and Robert Fripp’s production and guitar — you’re in a person’s soul and times that soul by three and suddenly the possibilities of what a simple record can achieve are raised and you want to do more and better.
I wish I knew how to get back to that feeling with music. I don’t know, maybe this is one of the hardest things about getting older, that leap into the void used to happen often, without the immediately accompanying doubts and “yeah but’s” – it felt worth it every time to take a chance and learn something new and, in the excitement of learning, create in an uncynical way, to believe “this’ll show em!” every time, before enforced humility, “well, at least the couple hundred who will be interested, I’ll do it for them and for me too!” I’m not beating the bushes for hugs of encouragement here, just telling it like it feels sometimes. Watching YouTube clips of the truly great at their peak, it’s like taking cod liver oil years after you were sick – a bracing realization that giants did truly walk among us and luckily I was too busy listening and copying and working on my own thing to be gagged by intimidation. When you’re twenty five or even thirty you listen and there are decades ahead of you to get there, but when you’re in your late fifties? You have to do some hard reckoning and admit the beautiful hope these records gave you is sort of in the past, except in how you can share the joy with a few dozen or hundred people on a cold night in Hoboken or Catskill or Columbus.
I got too busy after the march to think about Maggie Roche, and then my friend Greg Trooper died and even though I hadn’t seen him much in the last couple years, he and his wife Claire and son Jack were a huge part of my life in Nashville and it crushes me to know that Greg’s not out playing and singing somewhere and making people laugh and feel good. He also happened to be Maggie’s brother in law, and the tears I’ve cried for Greg, I know some went towards Maggie and the wonderful musical families of the Troopers, Mulallys and Roches.
Last night was a nice, quiet Monday in the bookstore/bar where I work and I put on Hammond Song. Playing this record in a public place is not something you enter into lightly. There’s a built-in responsibility playing some recordings because when heard by a receptive person for the first time they can be life-changing. It wakes up a part of you. This one creates awareness of a hugely-talented trio of sisters, and the quiet genius who wrote many of their songs, who is now no longer here. I knew that the young guy having a peaceful drink and reading a heady book would appreciate it, as he and I often talk about stuff and our last conversation had been prompted by Dylan’s Joey from Desire – not so much the song as the intense Emmylou harmonies that lift it into epic territory.
Put Hammond Song on and…wait. “What – what is this? When is it from?” After the song finished we talked about the Roches. I told him about Maggie. I didn’t mean to but I started to cry. Just a little – the bartender is supposed to be the consoling one. I didn’t embarrass myself. The young guy understood. When he left and I locked the door, I played the rest of the album – Married Men, Quitting Time. I went home and watched The Roches on YouTube. I think I’ll learn to play One Season. Maybe while I’m going nuts trying to figure it out, I’ll be that impressionable, delusional thirty year old again.