This past Saturday, the women’s march provided a singular moment of inspiration, empowerment, and catharsis for millions upon millions of people, men and women alike. It was a great moment, but with all things in life, you take the good with the bad because Saturday also marked the end of the life of an uncanny musician by the name of Maggie Roche.
The eldest of the three Roche sisters, Maggie had a big hand in shaping music that has given me so much over the years, even when I was blissfully unaware. I’d love to say I’ve been into The Roches since seeing them on Tiny Toons as a kid or since I was a late teenager falling in love with Paul Simon thanks to There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, but the real truth is I remembered that episode and read those album credits years after I came across their music on a mixtape and I had already begun my slow descent into their rabbit hole of distinct and peculiar harmonies.
Last November, after the election, I decided to do something to celebrate women in music because feminism and human decency had clearly taken a gut punch in 2016, regardless of who you supported. I reached out to 24 musicians to have them curate an episode of female artists they admire, and I put one together myself of my favorite female singers and bands, with “Hammond Song” by The Roches right there in the mix as magnificent as ever. I had a blast compiling my list of favorite songs in that regard, but nothing compared to interacting with other female musicians and hearing what they had to say and who they picked for the project. It became very clear that this was something I needed to do again so after a few weeks, I started reaching out again and not just to people I already knew or had contacts with — anyone I could.
The end result was the enormous I’m With Them project I unveiled last Thursday with help from 100 amazing female musicians. Looking over the list is truly humbling, but my eye still goes to one name on that list: The Roches. Not to take away from any of the other artists who took part (seriously, they all rule), but when I decided I was really going to go for it with the second project, The Roches were the first band I reached out to… and their quick, supportive response meant everything to me. Everything.
From the start until the release of the project, they were the first artist I brought up when people asked who was participating and I could feel myself beaming with pride as I said their name each time. Style Weekly in Richmond did an article on the project, full of quotes from me on The Roches, and you can even see them in the picture for the article right next to me.
This is a bit personal and I apologize because really, the conversation should be on Maggie, her spectacular range, and her innovative harmonies and song structures. In a future issue of Off Your Radar, I’ll be doing the introduction talking about their first record, something that I’ve been looking forward to since my last pick for the newsletter in September. Don’t worry — that will be much less personal and all about the joys of their music, a much more deserving tribute.
For now, let me leave with you a song of theirs so you can hear her beautiful voice again. I initially thought of doing “Quitting Time” since it’s the best showcase I can think of her rich and unorthodox voice, but I just had to share this live video of “Hammond Song” from 1983 I came across two weekends ago for three reasons. One, it’s amazing how precise and tight those harmonies were in a live setting. Two, you can really hear and even see how flexible Maggie’s voice was (catch in the beginning when it goes from the high register of “in my opinion” to the immediate drop of “on the right track”). And three, the song itself gives some comforting thoughts for her family and friends: “They say we meet again / on down the line.”