AS November’s nights close in on winter’s chill, New Orleans folk singer, songwriter and author Mary Gauthier arrives in York tonight to showcase her new album, Dark Enough To See The Stars.
Released by the 60-year-old Grammy nominee on Thirty Tigers in June, her ninth studio set of truth-telling songs finds Mary mourning the loss of dear musician friends John Prine, Nanci Griffith and David Olney on How Could You Be Gone and ’Til I See You Again, while offering optimism in her celebration of the joy of new love and personal contentment.
The title track, co-written with Beth Nielsen Chapman, acknowledges how loss and darkness can bring a beautiful sense of clarity and an understanding of what truly matters. “I got that line [‘But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars”] from Martin Luther King’s I’ve Been To The Mountaintop speech,” says Mary.
“He was teaching us that through pain and suffering we grow, and there are important things to gain from struggle, where sometimes it is the darkness that brings the light. It’s a beautiful metaphor”.
The combination of Covid’s grip and the loss of friends has been a time of “madness” for Mary, one that had led to her outpourings in song. “I tend to write about what it is I’m going through and what I think the world is going through, and I do that in a personal way, but that could be quite boring and narcissistic,” she says.
“The answer is to go deeper, and by doing that you strike a universal chord. I have to go underneath the surface to find a thread that links us all. I’ve learned over the writing of this record that The Beatles were right: love is all you need. Love is all there is.
“That love matters is what I cling to, especially in times of grief, and it all started with the death of my friends John Prine and David Olney, who was one of the geniuses of Nashville and had a heart attack on stage.”
Mary continues: There’s been a lot of grief, and what I’ve been made aware of is that people who I loved and loved me were really intensely loved and loved intensely in my life and I get to keep that love. It raises the stakes when you’re aware of how transient life is.
“Since the age of AIDS, I’ve been so aware of death, especially when it hits young people. In my 20s, working in a gay club, that [AIDS] was my first pandemic, so those feelings are not new to me. Losing all those beautiful young men; now it’s a feeling compounded by age.
“I have lost so many friends. It makes the relationships that remain alive so much more important, always ending messages with love. Relationships and love really matter, especially in times of grief and loss, and at times of such [political] division like now. I have family members that see American politics the other way, and I love them, so we don’t talk about it because we’d end up mad with each other.”
Beliefs lead to divisions, says Mary. “But I’m not trying to change the mind of anyone. That’s not my job. I’m a songwriter, and my job is to work withing the realms of the heart, to connect with the heart.
“Sympathy is to have feelings, but empathy is a very complex form of love; empathy is walking in someone else’s shoe, becoming the other in a song, putting yourself in the body of a female or a soldier, for example. It’s a very powerful medium that bypasses reason because it’s about the heart; it’s a feeling in your body,” she elaborates.
Dark Enough To See The Stare follows Rifles & Rosary Beads, Mary’s award-garlanded 2018 album co-written with U.S. veterans and their families that served to help them cope with the trauma experienced both abroad and at home.
Three years later came her first book, Saved By A Song: The Art and Healing Power of Songwriting, a memoir wherein she shared her life experiences from addiction, abandonment and loss to compassion, empathy, kindness and ultimately triumph, subsequently named in Rolling Stone magazine’s Best Music Books of 2021.
“The way I think songwriting works is that songs can make people feel something and that creates empathy, and through that the heart can have a conversation with the mind,” she says. “There are bridges that only music can cross.”
Mary Gauthier, The Crescent, York, tonight (23/11/2022), 7.30pm. Seated show with all seating unreserved. Support act Jaimee Harris will then perform with Gauthier. Box office: thecrescentyork.seetickets.com/event/mary-gauthier/the-crescent/2378227 or on the door.