Thursday, July 06, 2006

Girl Friday #20: This Woman's Work

Today I want to tell you about one extraordinary woman. She wouldn't say so, but Tracy Grammer to me is a pillar of strength, a beautiful and talented singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter whose story has always moved me.

I first heard about the near-perfect in every way duo Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer just about this time back in July, 2002. I was just becoming reacquainted with folk and beginning to explore bluegrass and roots music when a friend pointed me in their direction.

Dave Carter had been a computer consultant, I believe, when he chucked it all in his mid-40s to follow the call of his indisputable songwriting gift. He met Tracy Grammer, a Berkeley grad with fiddletude, when she almost literally bumped into him after a songwriters showcase in Oregon. By 1998 the two were partners in music and in life.

Their first album, When I Go, was recorded mostly in Tracy's kitchen. That was followed by my personal favorite, Tanglewood Tree, and then Drum Hat Buddha. A few weeks ago, Tracy released their final recording, Seven Is The Number, which had not been fully engineered at the time of Dave's sudden death four years ago this month.

The duo was set to perform in Boston. Dave went out for a run. When he came back to get ready for their gig, he just didn't feel quite right. Within moments he had collapsed, and upon uttering the words, "Baby, it's really beautiful," died in Tracy's arms. He missed his 50th birthday by three weeks.

Tracy's response to this maddening loss was to enfold the musical community in its mourning, and lead fans and admirers down a new path of continual discovery in Dave Carter's music. I saw her perform twice shortly after Dave's death. There was an emptiness but yet such an indefatigueable determination to perform this music and to see that the legacy of Dave Carter's incredible songwriting would live out its legacy. She was pressing on alone. I can relate to that, although I've never suffered the kind of loss she has.

I have always told people that I'm a terrific behind-the-scenes girl. I really am. Helping other people to be successful brings me a lot of joy. I don't need a lot of credit, I just like to see things done well. I'm definitely a side performer but I have to say, Tracy inspires me to take the lead every now and then as a way of paying homage to what has gone before me and to the things that really matter most.

I've never had a partner with whom I shared such complete synchronicity -- I came close once, but it wasn't mutually recognized for what it was and I admit I had to give up when I couldn't support it alone and from 350 miles away. But maybe someday I'll hit upon such a thing again, and will at last be able to put it to some use before one of us is called away.

I deeply admire Tracy's courage, and her devotion not only to her karmic running mate and musical partner but to the promise of the endless beauty that might have been spun out for us. She is a soldier of the poetic and ephemeral. She's touched a bit of glory the rest of us can only hope to glimpse in our lifetimes. And she'd never think for a second of keeping it to herself.

This beautiful song, "Soldier of My Soul," is a goodbye song. It's as if somehow they always knew their time was short, so Dave wrote this stunning perfect love hymn which just floats along on Tracy's vocals. The last time I saw her perform, at The Kent Stage, there was simply no dry eye in the house listening to this beautiful person share something so deeply personal with us. But, it's her life's work.

Sample this but please visit to hear and learn more.

Gentle Soldier of My Soul


my love has gone
all upon the crimson trail
his drum at dawn
beating brimstone through the veil
clear light through smoke and ash
and balmy seas, where breakers crash and roll
gentle soldier of my soul


he lays me down in his garden growin bed
he weaves a crown,
twigs and feathers for my head
he sings the fields awake
and folds me in the love that makes me whole
gentle soldier of my soul


when i have passed through the forest of my trials
and stand at last where the shadows run for miles
we'll ride on ponies fine
with painted shields through fields of shining gold
gentle soldier of my soul



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