Thursday, September 12, 2013

RIP, Girlyman

Yesterday, 12 years to the day since they first began (on the meaningful day of 9/11/2001), my favorite band announced that they were no more. I first discovered Girlyman several years ago when they opened for one of my favorite singers, Dar Williams, at the Aladdin Theater in Portland. I describe their beautiful three-part harmonies as "Indigo Girls meet Peter Paul and Mary" (in fact, the Indigo Girls helped them get their start)...just the type of music I love! This is what Slate magazine said about them in an excellent article about the band:
"Girlyman was conceived in the back of a rented Buick in 2001 when Doris, Ty, and Nate were driving from New York to Atlanta. Doris and Ty had been friends since meeting in the second grade in Princeton Junction, N.J. They formed a duo called the Garden Verge. Ty's father is a musician, but Doris' Japanese immigrant parents were horrified when she announced at 13 she wanted to ditch her piano lessons to become a singer-songwriter like Paul Simon. Nate, a solo act in 2001, was born in Groton, Mass., and became friends with Ty and Doris at Sarah Lawrence, where he graduated in 1997, a year after they did. As they drove, Doris sang and played "Montpellier," one of Nate's songs. The other two added harmonies. They liked the mix so much they decided to start playing together. Girlyman plays a mix of acoustic folk, bluegrass, and folk rock. What makes the band distinctive is its alto, tenor, and soprano harmonies."
We saw Girlyman in concert four times (including the opener for Dar), and each time it was unforgettable (raving out Girlyman in 2008 here and in 2007 here, and Musicians Who Have Inspired me here and three-part harmony here). They are so alive and fun on stage in a way that few other musicians are--in fact, they have raised my bar for concerts. If musicians do not engage much with the audience, they are less likely to retain my interest. That's why I loved Springsteen in concert.

One of my favorite features of Girlyman is the fact that Nate makes up "tuning songs" on the spot while Doris and Ty would tune their instruments. Here's just one example:

A few years ago the beautifully voiced and talented Doris Muramatsu battled cancer, and the last time we saw them in concert was in March 2012 when they were back on tour. At that concert, Doris talked about some of her personal struggles in going back onstage...cancer changes a person, and from what she wrote in her announcement yesterday, I gather that she seemed to realize that touring half of her time is not what she wants out of life:
"During the last few months of Girlyman, I was starting to see more clearly how unhappy I was being on the road, on tour, and even up on stage. I think everyone, to a certain extent, could see the signs of weakness in our emotional infrastructure. I know for me, personally, I was not able to even see clearly who I was outside of all the dynamics that engulf such a tight-knit group. I found myself simply longing to know what *I* thought, or what *I* wanted to do, and at the time I couldn't even answer those questions for myself. So I knew that the right thing for me to do was to get off the road, stop being in the band, and spend some time with Me. This was a different kind of scary than the cancer, but equally life-threatening if I *didn't* do it."
I can't say I blame on the road--and as part of a band where you must make all your decisions collaboratively--must be really difficult. She goes on:
"Since being off the road, I have had a remarkable year...I did just finish a beautiful kids' album that has largely been inspired by all the little kid friends in my life. I've had the opportunity to see myself in a new way, that is, be the sort of identity-less version of Doris that I've been longing for since I got cancer. Why did I long to not have an identity? Because maybe then I could see beyond the jail of my own beliefs. And maybe it would allow me to glimpse my higher self, the consciousness that resides without my personality and ego...You might be surprised to know that even with all the fan support and love we received over the years and especially towards the end, I had an extremely difficult time taking in any of it. And when I realized that void within in me couldn't even be filled when people screamed and cheered and adored me/us, I knew I had to learn to do it for myself. It's totally that cliche that makes me roll my eyes, but states the absolute truth: You can't truly love others (or accept their love) unless you love yourself!"
As John Dickerson says in Slate, Girlyman's fans are hardcore devoted, and we are all devastated that the band is ending. Shortly after we saw Girlyman for the last time, one of the friends we went with was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer...and recently we returned to the venue (Alberta Rose Theater) with those friends to hear another amazing singer-songwriter, Liz Longley (a new favorite). Life comes full circle...each day I discover new musicians who inspire me and make me laugh.

But I'm feeling sad. At least we have the CDs to sustain us--I will treasure their music even more now that I know that they were truly a Supernova (a dying star, and one of their songs). One of their fans wrote this comment on Girlyman's Facebook page:
“It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone." ― John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
I will leave you with just a few of my favorite Girlyman songs:

Amaze Me

Joyful Sign:

Everything's Easy:

And the most poignant and appropriate one, "Say Goodbye":

No comments:

Post a Comment