Back in the dawn of the Internet age, when it all was new and we hadn’t yet been jaded by this new communication medium, I belonged to a special listServ called the NanciNet. This was a group of fans of the folk singer Nanci Griffith. The people participating in this group lived all across the country and even the world — as far flung as the influence of Nanci Griffith’s music. Being part of this group and contributing to the wide-ranging discussions helped me to appreciate the power of the Internet.
Topics were not limited to just Nanci’s music. In one discussion I mentioned my fondness for a progressive British rock band from the late ’60s and early ’70s called the Strawbs. I then got a private message from a woman named Marcia who said she too was a fan. We started exchanging e-mails about various rock bands from that period. I think Marcia initially contact me partly because she was trying to meet single men. After I dropped the fact that I had a girlfriend, I thought Marcia would lose interest in our interchanges, but a love of the music kept our correspondence going. One day I received a package from Marcia in the mail. It was a CD of recordings made by the Strawbs with a young Sandy Denny, who would go on to become a British folk icon with her work in Fairpoint Convention and subsequent solo career. I was not familiar with Sandy Denny at the time and didn’t know a thing about this early Strawbs material, but the album was a revelation. I was blown away by Denny’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” To this day I still do not know how it was I’d never heard this song, which I’ve since learned is an old chestnut covered by everyone from Judy Collins to Nanci Griffith herself. The song is a lament over the passing of the seasons, the roll of time. Hearing it for the first time was a powerful experience, for which I will be eternally grateful to Marcia. The song is especially poignant, because Sandy Denny died at the age of 31, suffering from a brain hemorrhage several days after tumbling down a stair case.
Over time I began to learn some personal things about Marcia. She was overweight and had had heart problems. She was an elementary school principal a job she seemed to love. But she wanted to be in a relationship. She made trips to Ireland to satisfy her love of Celtic music, and because she’d made a male friend over there. After learning this, I sent her a VHS tape of a live performance by a band called Solas which I got as a premium for pledging $75 to my local public television station.
After two or three years our correspondence tapered off — we’d probably run the gamut of topics of interest to each other. We’d write every couple of months just to say hello, then it was a couple of times a year. Then, one day, I received an e-mail from a friend of Marcia’s informing all the people in Marcia’s e-mail address list that Marcia had died suddenly of a heart attack. This news stunned and saddened me. It also made me rethink the nature of friendship. I asked myself what I had really lost? I’d never met this woman, never even spoken on the phone with her. I didn’t know what she looked or sounded like. My only interaction with her had been through the pixels on my computer screen… and the music we had shared.
But Marcia had given me the gift of her enthusiasm for this music, and I realized that, yes indeed, I had lost a friend.
Why am I thinking about Marcia today? I was at one of our local bookstores, one that still sells a few CDs, and I saw that a remastered version of the Strawbs sessions with Sandy Denny, titled All My Own Work, has just been released. I debated only a moment before deciding to buy it, even though I had most of these songs on the CD Marcia had sent me. Listening to the disk in my car made me glad of the decision. The recordings have never sounded fresher or cleaner, the remastering doing justice to Sandy Denny’s rich, expressive vocals. For a moment, as I listened to “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” both Sandy and Marcia were brought back to life. That’s the power of music, I guess. It’s also the lasting legacy of a never-met friend.