Perfect Sound Forever

Gabby McGarrigle

Kate & Anna McGarrigle video for "Mother Mother," with an appearance by Gabby

interview by Georgia Christgau

This interview was done on November 18, 1976, early evening
ED NOTE: Look out for cameos appearances from two future music stars here

(both Helen (Gabby's helper) and Gabby are threatening to put Rufus in his room)

GABBY: Where's your right side, Rufus, where's your right side? Where's your right side? Remember you were showing us today? Well how did you like Saint-Sauveur, Georgia?

GC: Oh, it's beautiful.

GABBY: You go in to Helen, Rufus, and leave us to ourselves.

RUFUS: No, I don't like to.

GC: Well, I wasn't asking if you'd like to, just telling you what I needed to do.

RUFUS: I want to see this.

GABBY: You want to go in your room, Rufus?

RUFUS: I don't want to. I don't want to go. Leave me alone.

GABBY: You're a naughty boy.

RUFUS: Leave me alone. I don't like to go.

GC: Oh, I think that will be OK for you to be in there.

RUFUS: No, I don't like to.

GC: Well, we're gonna sit and talk to each other and we're not going to pay any attention to you, that's all that's gonna happen out here.

GABBY: Go get your biscuits and eat them, and give one to Papoon, and afterwards we'll see you. Come on, take my hand. After, we'll come up and we'll all talk and have a lot of fun. Run now, and stay in the kitchen. Close the door, please... Five minutes (to GA). He is really a terror.

GC: I think they stay that way until they grow up.

GABBY: I think with Loudon being away, and Kate being away so much, being with all the babysitters who gave him what he wanted, so consequently he's very demanding. I had 7 brothers so I have no illusions about men. I have no sisters, but I was the oldest girl. So I had to battle all of them. It was always a battle. Maybe there are women who are very demanding, but we were not demanding women. At least I don't think we were. I have sisters in law who I think are demanding, want a mink coat, the husband has to be home at such a time. No, I don't think women are as demanding as men.

(Rufus crying)

GC: I don't either. Yes, I have to brothers, and I'm the only girl, and I'm the baby.

GABBY: Ah, so you were the spoiled child. Rufus is the oldest, like you... (Ga said that before)

GC: Older children, they're much stronger, they learn early, to defend what's theirs.

GABBY: Well Rufus resents the baby, especially if Kate's here, take her and kisses her, he wants to sit in her lap and be part of that. And he has been left a lot with babysitters. In NY.

GC: Does Loudon see them a lot?

GABBY: He was here last weekend. Because he was on his way to England. He went back to NY for a dental appointment, and then to England.

RUFUS: I don't want to be in this room, I don't want to go in my room either.

GABBY: But he hadn't been seeing them that much. Maybe he was quite surprised by Kate coming up. I don't know. Kate never says anything and I never ask her. That's their personal thing.

GC: I was wondering, how the girls (Kate, Anna) got started in music, you probably sort of know that better than anyone. They tell me that you're their greatest critic, best critic.

GABBY: Of course they started (with) music. There was a little convent school that they went to, which was a very good order. I don't know if you know the Catholic orders- I don't think you're a Catholic.

GC: I'm Protestant.

GABBY: Well, you know the Catholic orders like we had the Sacred Heart, the Congregation, which I went to, and they went to the um... Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, which was a very good order. A good mother house, and the best music school here. And of course their father was very musical. The first thing he bought, we had nothing else, he bought that organ we have at home. Did you see the organ? In back of the Chesterfield. It was a harmonium, they called it.

GC: Did he introduce them to John McCormick? I know they're great fans of his.

GABBY: Oh yes, he loved all Irish music. He came from Brunswick, he was Canadian, of Irish and Scottish heritage.

GC: It must have been very hard for you. Kate told me he died in '55.

GABBY: Yeah, well, Kate was at McGill. It was '65. She was in her first year (of) engineering, and Anna was working. I worked for ten years.

GC: What did you do?

GABBY: Oh, secretary. But I hadn't worked for 22 years, and then went back, part-time.

GC: Kate told me that he was quite sick, most of his life.

GABBY: Yeah, most of his life.

GC: You lived in the country for his health?

GABBY: I wasn't a country girl- I was brought up in Montreal, but I went up there. I'd never liked the country, never liked it. I live there now. 30 years, you know. It's my home now but, uh, to say that I'm crazy about it... I like Montreal. I like the life of the city. The people, you know. No, I'm not a country girl. I took it because it was for his health.

GC: Was he sick after the War? So did you marry before the war?

GABBY: Yes. He introduced them to the music. I took violin lessons when I was a kid. Piano and violin. And we started them when they were six years of age. They had to have piano lessons. And Jane (Kate and Anna's older sister) in California played very well.

GC: What does she do out there?

GABBY: She's married to David Dow- he's an engineer with IBM. He has been for about 10 or 12 years. But now, he's taking a year's sabbatical and they're going to Lake Tahoe. His company wanted him to go to Atlanta, but she wouldn't leave California. I love San Francisco. Kate likes the east coast. She liked New York much better than California. To me, San Francisco is the beginning and end. There's a lot of life there. She has two children. Nice little children. Well, I go out a couple of times a year to California, stay for a month. Sometimes I take a cruise from the Pacific, 42 day cruise. I like the Pacific much better than the Atlantic.

GC: I know for my parents, having grandchildren is something like having children.

GABBY: Well, I feel closer to these two. When Kate was in New York, I dashed down there and phoned her every day, (to) find out how they were.

GC: Is it sort of like having children again?

GABBY: Yes. It is. Um, like that baby, I adore that baby. I'd almost adopt her. I feel like she's my own. I really feel that baby is mine. She's so sweet. Were you married, Georgia?

GC: I lived with a man for a few years.

GABBY: And then?

GC: We broke up. (laughter)

GABBY: You broke up. Ah, were you heartbroken?

GC: Yeah. He never wanted to get married.

GABBY: How long ago was this?

GC: Over a year.

GABBY: Are you fully recovered?

GC: (laughter)

GABBY: Do you ever see him after the breakup?

GC: Yeah, but not, you know, just friends. I don't know, I think I'll feel something for him the rest of my life. But as far as recovered, I feel sort of recovered.

GABBY: Had he ever been married before?

GC: But we never had any children. No, I wouldn't have had children without being married. That was one thing I thought we were working towards and when I found out that we weren't, thing deteriorated very quickly. (baby Martha crying loudly)

GABBY: Was he the same age as you, or older? Same business? These artists, well, artists, you know (temperamental, huh?), yeah, yeah, yeah.

GC: But I know that I made mistakes just like he did. I don't think that it was all his fault that we broke up. I don't think that he was happy. I don't know what would make him happy.

GABBY: And you didn't try to keep him.

GC: Well, I don't know if I knew what he wanted. I think I had spent a long time trying to figure out what he wanted. I felt that it was time to try to learn about something else. (laughter)

GABBY: Well, do you see him often?

GC: Yeah, we're still pretty good friends.

GABBY: Has he another, ah...

GC: No. That will change things. I'm sure. I don't go out with him socially, but I do see him. But having children is pretty mysterious to me, because I've never experienced it.

GABBY: Mind you, it's a responsibility. I think Kate has a grave responsibility. And sometimes I tremble, I say, you know, I feel once you're married, you should not, where there are children involved...

GC: Did having children take up all of your time?

GABBY: Oh yes. It took a whole lot of my time. But then I was old when I had them. I was in my 40's. The first child I had it was a miscarriage and then (for) 7 years, I didn't conceive- I thought I was barren. See I was married at 31; I had a miscarriage at 31, and for seven years... I didn't believe that I would ever have a child.

GC: When did you get married?

RUFUS: Hey, what you doing?

GABBY: We're still talking. We're almost done.

GC: We can go in now if you'd like.

GABBY: Well, did you want to talk anymore?

GC: Well, I sort of wanted you to talk about having children and bringing up the girls a little bit.

GABBY: Well, bringing up the girls... They were brought up as you know, in the country here. And um... we had no money, but we were not poor. You know what I mean? They had music lessons. Naturally, they didn't have the best equipment, but they did everything. But there were not, uh, clothes. Clothes was one thing that I didn't think was that important. I used to think schooling, and ballet lessons and things, but not clothes, and to this day, they're not clothes conscious. We always had a lot of books (Martha is screaming here) at home, and their father spent a lot of time talking to them. And always music, music from the time you got up in the morning 'til the time you go to bed.

And then we moved here to Montreal because they went to school in French, and there was no English school there. I would have had to send them 20 miles away, which at that time cost... it was 20 dollars a month for the transportation and had to go to a Protestant school. There was no English Catholic schools, all French, the Laurentians. So, rather than send three children at $50, I'd rather take an apartment and let them go to a Parish school, which is what I did. We came to Montreal and every weekend, we'd go back home. We took a small apartment and they went and... they did their high school in English (Martha has stopped crying).

Kate was a good mathematician and when she was through with high school, I went to work and I was friends with this lady engineer and I thought, 'Kate, why don't you become an engineer because two of her cousins were going to McGill for engineering.' So she went to McGill and took two years' engineering. Then her father died, and then I said, 'well Kate, I think I'll get you a job for the summer,' which I did, in the engineering department. I think she was a draftswoman. I think she told me she had done--what--6,000 screws, you know, that she had drawn. At the end, when it came time to go back to the university, she said I don't want to be an engineer.

GC: Was she performing already by that time?

GABBY: They always performed, yeah, they were singing.

GC: Did Anna perform as much as Kate?

GABBY: In those days, yes, they both performed.

GC: Then Anna went mostly into songwriting. She told me that she wrote her first song when Kate was (working) with another girl.

GABBY: With Roma. It's quite possible. But they always performed. (Martha crying again) They always had a guitar. I remember my father, one Christmas, bought them guitars that came from Ottawa. And when they saw the guitars, they threw them down. They said 'these are Westerns! We don't want these!' And my poor father, this was a Christmas present. My father was sitting there, he looked at them and said, 'well... We'd bought them wholesale, couldn't return them to Ottawa.' So I said, 'now what are we gonna do.' They said 'well, we want no part of these.' So I had a friend and I phoned her and she knew all the young people on the street so she got two boys, she told them about these guitars and she told them, 'You know how you can get them for the price they paid for them.' And these two kids hot-fotted it over to my place, bought the guitars, and then I gave the girls the money and they went down to Craig Street to the second-hand dealers and bought the type they wanted. You know, the Spanish guitars. They didn't warn the Western. I was furious!

GC: And you've always been friendly with the people that they've worked with? I was so impressed when one came in and acted as though you were their mother or something. It was like everyone was chums with you.

GABBY: All the crowd used to come up to Saint-Sauveur and they'd sit in the back there and they'd all sing their hearts out.

GC: I think when Peter (Weldon, who was in a '60's band with Kate and Anna) came in, you said something about him that turned out to be so true. Something offhand like 'Well Peter, you were always a ladies man, that's why so and so, you know' and he acted as though he'd heard that from you before.

GABBY: Oh yes. He's a very nice person, Peter. Very nice. And Kate was engaged to his brother Christopher, who was an engineer. I think maybe that was one reason she went in for engineering. And then after two years, she said 'I don't want to be an engineer; I don't want to go to University.' I said 'Look, you've got two years in there. Now you take a course with the subjects that you have already taken.' She said 'Well, all I can do is science.' So, she went in and took a degree in science. And when she was through, she came back and she said, 'Well, here's the sheepskin.' And I said 'Kate, you know, in ten years, you will be so happy that you took this.' She said, 'In ten years, Mother, what I know will be obsolete.' That was the last time I told my children what to do.

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