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Sunday, November 15, 2020

“You made it to autumn”: A Neil Young Fan's Heartbreaking Memories & Birthday Wishes


Greg McGarvey with his late girlfriend Marcella Di Sandro

 

Here is a story that touches us quite deeply.

Longtime fellow Neil Young fan Greg McGarvey shares with us his oh-so very sad -- but inspiring and uplifting - story of his relationship with his late girlfriend Marcella Di Sandro. 

The Levittown, Pennsylvania musician recently released his debut album ‘Count the Colors’ – a 10-track tribute to his late girlfriend Marcella Di Sandro, a Churchville, Pennsylvania painter who lost her battle with Fanconi anemia in 2014.

Greg saw Marcella's strength battling Fanconi anemia and beating cancer twice, to the selfless act of chopping off most of her hair and donating it to Locks of Love.

Here is the story of Marcella and Greg written on Neil Young's 75th birthday earlier this week.

Westport, Connecticut


“You made it to autumn”

The first line on my album is one of the last things I said to her. 

Marcella loved the fall. 

I was thirty-one; she was only twenty-eight.

That day, I performed for her twice, with two different performer friends. There was no way to know it was her last full day, but somehow they knew. We performed about two hours of music for her in hospice.


 
Shelby Street Bridge, Nashville, Tennessee


I tuned my old Japanese guitar down real low and we sang sweet, gentle harmonies. I remember being surprised how reverberant the room was despite being full of people and medical equipment. Songs like “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream.” R.E.M.’s “You Are The Everything.” “Harvest Moon.”

I chose “Across The Universe” for the funeral. I found myself playing “Distant Camera” at the burial.

“When I’m riding down the road in my car, traveling without you, I can still see you sitting there right by my side.”

When Marcella was sick, I would work a few jobs a week, taking photos at festivals. It was on these long drives that I would find myself processing the changes in my life and in my life with Marcella.

As usual, it was the power of music that broke through my defenses, stripping away the many strategically placed distractions and allowing me to just feel my heart and all the pain radiating through it. The big howling cries. I remember one night in particular when the rain on I-95 North was so heavy that I had to pull the car over for a while.

Robyn Hitchcock’s album The Man Upstairs would bring me to that place. 
 
Later in the year, Neil Young’s new album Storytone would do the same. Two of my favorite songwriters, both chronicling massive transitions in their personal lives.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens


“Tough love can leave you almost alone...”

“Glimmer” made a huge impact. A few years later, I played it at an intimate concert at which I debuted the ten songs of my album Count The Colors followed by ten songs that inspired them.

“...that day I couldn’t find you...”

For me, that day was the day that she was set to find out if she had cancer and if it was treatable. She wasn’t ready to tell me. She did it the following day, in person.

“...new love brings back everything to you.”

Yeah. That one, too. 
 
Marcella had left a letter behind for me. In this letter, she told me how much she loved me, and also expressed her selfless wish that I find new love one day.

My new album has a song about this, written from her perspective. 
 
Every single time I perform “No Grays And Blues,” it feels like I’m channeling it. It doesn’t feel like it’s coming from me. It’s an eerie, transcendent experience. That only shows up at special gigs.

From a distance, I liked the idea of Neil and Pegi. I was unnerved by the idea of them not being a couple any longer.

But when I saw Neil perform at Philadelphia’s Academy Of Music and heard some of the songs from Storytone, it was very obvious that this guy is madly in love.

Here’s my favorite artist starting fresh. Just like I was about to do.

 

 

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens


New love.

Somehow, I found it on the very first date, the following year. Almost like the universe had queued her up for me. We’ve been together for almost six years. She’s sitting on the couch right now, about three feet from me.

I went to a cafe right after our first date and they were playing “I’m Glad I Found You.” I didn’t want to analyze the date; just experience it. All I really noticed was the big smile on my face. A smile that told me that life really WILL go on, just like that song on the cafe sound system suggested.

Writing and recording my album of songs for Marcella was hard, not just because of the subject matter and not just because I kept running out of studio money, but because my parents both became ill and ultimately passed away before the album’s release.

Still, Mom heard me sing these songs at an old church in Ewing, New Jersey, and Dad was always proud to see that I was constantly writing and performing with his - and his father’s - old guitars.

The morning of Mom’s passage, I was filming the music video for “Something So Beautiful,” which meant I had my guitar with me when I visited her for the last time that afternoon.

 

 

Lambertville, New Jersey



My sister Pam was holding her hand and I was playing Neil’s song “Silver And Gold.” No singing, just fingerpicking. Somewhere between “Silver And Gold” and “Distant Camera,” she finally let go.

Only because she had to. She would’ve kept kicking for a hundred more years easily. The day her health took a turn, she’d been working as a private-duty nurse for a disabled child and his family. Her body wasn’t equipped for the job any longer and, somehow, for a little while, she did it anyway.

I learned about the tenacity of special needs families through my mom, and also through the Bridge School benefit concerts.

I’ve heard Neil say he’s inspired by the strength of his son Ben’s spirit, even as he lives with cerebral palsy. “You can never give up.”

Dad and I got to meet Ben in Nashville once. We figured Neil’s gig at the Ryman was as good an excuse as any to take a trip down south. I’m glad we did, too, as it turned out to be our last chance.

 

 


Levittown, Pennsylvania

Dad’s old guitar took me all the way from childhood to Marcella’s burial. After that, I treated myself to the guitar that I used to ogle at the mall with Marcella - a mahogany Martin 000-15m. That guitar has taken me from Count The Colors, to my mom’s bedside, and everywhere else I’ve been for six years.

I found Neil’s work in my dad’s CD collection when I was about twelve, astonished by the firepower of Weld, the gentle beauty of Harvest Moon, the eclectic grab bag of Sleeps With Angels. In finding and studying Neil’s work, I ultimately found my own path as a singer, guitarist, and songwriter.

Each concert has been a spiritual event, a pilgrimage. I’ve seen the Madison Square Garden crowd spontaneously cheer the choruses of “Bandit,” a song they’d never heard before. 
 
I’ve seen Crazy Horse play a slow, raunchy “Danger Bird.” 
 
I’ve seen Ben Keith play “Winterlong.” 
 
I saw “No Hidden Path” in an old movie theater. 
 
I heard Neil make the display cabinets in the back of the Ryman rattle.
 
I heard a version of “Like A Hurricane” with a brutal noise coda that went on for eight minutes.
 
I saw Promise Of The Real grab hold of “Down By The River” and not let go for twenty minutes.
 

 

Carrboro, North Carolina

 
For all of this and more - so much gratitude.

The movie of my life is so much better for having a score that so heavily features the music of Neil Young and his friends. I feel fortunate to be living at the same time as the guy.

Neil, Happy birthday!

Greg McGarvey
Lawrenceville, New Jersey
November 12, 2020

  Mount Laurel, New Jersey

 Marcella Di Sandro passed away peacefully on Sept. 23, 2014, at the age of 28


 "How something brief and beautiful that grabs our inner longing becomes an incomprehensible truth that makes you cry and laugh in wonder when it's gone." - Mattie Crawford, 2020

Thanks so very much Greg for sharing your story here on TW for all of the other Neil Young fans out there.  Your courage and compassion is an inspiration to us all.

On Aug. 21, 2020, McGarvey’s six-year labor of love Count the Colors was released, with each of the 10 tracks serving as a small tribute to Di Sandro and the unforgettable moments of their two-and-a-half-year relationship.

McGarvey began writing Count the Colors in 2015, drawing influence from his favorite childhood band The Everly Brothers and their album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us.

“They showed me it’s OK to be direct emotionally at times,” he said. “The Everly Brothers showed me that it’s OK to wear your heart on your sleeve a little bit.”

Visit gregmcgarvey.bandcamp.com/album/count-the-colors to listen to Count the Colors. A portion of proceeds from the album will benefit the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.

 

Greg McGarvey - "Specks Of Paint On Your Fingernails" 
(live at Hopetown Sound)

 

Greg overcame tremendous hurdles to write and record his tribute songs to  Marcella including the devastating loss of both parents, lack of funds and a pandemic. From the support of many friends, he raised $2,500 through a GoFundMe page to complete the album.

A Facebook Live concert streamed on the day of the release at Marcella’s home, where her sister still lives, with Greg singing his songs. Several pieces of Di Sandro’s artwork sat behind him, while Marcella’s jacket hung off the arm of a chair nearby.

Greg remembers:

"I'm not much of a piano player. 

I remember one day in her music room, she sat next to me on the piano bench as I began to play a few bars of some long-forgotten tune of mine. She was in tears within seconds. 

This lady was a musical spirit. Probably still is. 

I wrote this and many other piano tunes in her music room. 

I get chills every time her spoken part comes up and she reads the meaning of her name. Of course she was a young warrior. When she crossed over, she had specks of paint on her fingernails."

- live sound by Brian Dale Allen Strouse 

- video by Pier Giacalone

 
Greg McGarvey - "Something So Beautiful" (music video) 

On our second date, I took her into my partially burned-down house.

Set for demolition sometime later that year. I showed her my old bedroom. All the things I had to leave behind. Like some bizarre, semi-charred, water-damaged museum of my old life. 

All the music made, love made, art made. The many existential crises. All the searching for something beautiful. The unmistakable stench of a place that has recently been on fire. 

"You were the sunlight that made the glass shards glisten like diamonds if you looked at them right."

 I take words she spoke to me and turn them back on her. “How could you make something beautiful in a place like this?”

 I’d been singing at the bar where we used to hang out. I followed her and, on the way home, she suddenly stopped in the middle of the road. She thought she hit a deer, but we couldn’t see any sign of one. Must’ve just missed ‘em. We just stood there, sometime after midnight, on this stretch of the road where there’s nothing but big fields and big skies, until she stopped shaking. I liked being there to make her feel better. 

A moment so simple that it could easily be forgotten. I’m taking that moment with me. It might have been the day of the funeral. I was milling around her back patio alone; my first time at her house after she passed on. 

All her stuff was still there, but I could never talk to her again.

I had one of those intense cries where you become your own extreme weather event for a few minutes and afterwards you’re left feeling cleansed but with a lot of debris to clean up. 

It was only a few weeks earlier, on the last day that was able to speak clearly, that she told her aunt, if she could be anywhere, she’d be wandering around Chapel Hill with her family and me. I remember suddenly showing up on the back porch one day when she didn't expect me. 

I'll never forget how she beamed when I turned the corner. “We didn’t wait ‘til the sun came out. We’d just turn the key and drive.”

From an interview in Lower Bucks Times, Greg said:

“The support of her friends and family almost six years later, that’s the reason I feel comfortable putting her name in a song, telling the story of her. They told me it’s what she would’ve wanted me to do with her memory.”

“There’s just so much new life around me. And that, combined with my natural tendency to want to find the next adventure, it was never going to be an option sitting around thinking my life was over at 31. My tendency is to keep looking forward and find the silver lining in things.”

A great outlook Greg and all the best from here on your travels until we meet again.

 

Visit Greg @ Greg McGarvey  Music.


Labels: , ,


10 Comments:

At 11/15/2020 09:58:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks again for sharing here Greg.

You mention, "I saw “No Hidden Path” in an old movie theater."

That was the first time we met. Filming Trunk Show at Tower Theater, in Philadelphia, PA in December 2007, as we recall.

You were like in the front in front of us and there was a big film camera in the row. During “No Hidden Path” everyone who had been sitting was having trouble staying in there seats as Neil just jammed to another dimension. I think you didn't want to block the camera so you were rocking out as best you could in your seat.

And I think we met again at Academy of Music solo show in like 2016 maybe?

well, we think you're on the hidden path and staying true to Marcella's memories.

all the best and take care.
we're all here for you, counting the colors for the music & Marcella.

 
At 11/15/2020 10:31:00 AM, Blogger Greg McGarvey said...

that's right! could i have also seen you at MSG 2012?

the Trunk Show filming night was amazing! another audience member told me her disabled father couldn't see, so i finally sat down, but continued my seated grooving. watching Trunk Show, i wondered how many potentially good shots were ruined by my Muppet-like dancing. hehe.

No Hidden Path, indeed, made me feel like the building had lifted off the foundation and was drifting up and down 69th Street. the fact that that specific version was filmed and released (or semi-released) is a joy; a great souvenir.

anyway, thanks for sharing my words and for everything else you do! see you down the road, i hope.

 
At 11/15/2020 11:23:00 AM, Blogger Jim said...

Very moving story and thanks so much to you both for sharing it here. Was thinking about Joseph Campbell who asked if you identify with the "it" of the light bulb or the "thou" of the light that it shines this morning? The shift from "it" to "thou" can be rather profound. It changes dead dirt into living soil and so on. Takes you from outside and far away, to inside it all where nothing is lost.

 
At 11/15/2020 11:41:00 AM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Greg - yes, we were @ MSG in 2012 as well down on the rail!

and right, down the forks in the roads, we'll meet again someday on the avenues, tangled up in blue and out of the black.

@ Jim - thanks for Joseph Campbell thoughts. profound as always.

What we should really emphasize here upon reflection on a Sunday morning is that Greg has turned grief into art.

and that is no small achievement.

we say that b/c we know and feel global frustrations building without an outlet that turns into rage & destruction.

this has been something that we've always been profoundly moved by neil & his music. how it contains so much emotion channeled into something truly beautiful and for the ages.

it was under similar circumstance upon which the Renaissance began where some of the most significant art of all time was achieved out of the ashes of The Dark Ages.

let us hope that a new Renaissance can begin anew in these Times that are a changin'

peace

 
At 11/15/2020 11:58:00 AM, Blogger Greg McGarvey said...

interesting thoughts, Jim. thanks!

TW, well-put, as always.

 
At 11/15/2020 12:51:00 PM, Blogger Paul Dionne said...

And it is strongly urged to get Count The Colors - it is a beautiful and wonderful album -
paul dionne

 
At 11/15/2020 02:40:00 PM, Blogger Abner Snopes said...

Thank You Greg

 
At 11/15/2020 04:21:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Paul - agree.
to support Greg's misc, see
https://gregmcgarvey.bandcamp.com/album/count-the-colors

 
At 11/15/2020 04:25:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

From Mark G.:

One of the most touching segments I can recall from Thrasher.

This is a great tribute to not only a deep love but to how that love inspired his writing and music. Mr. Young would no doubt be proud to be associated with this piece.

Many kudos and thanks for sharing!

Sent from my iPhone

 
At 11/15/2020 04:26:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

A beautiful and touching story of love, loss and resolution. Thank you Thrasher for sharing Greg’s story with us. Thank you Greg for your courageous response to a deep and personal loss. Your willingness to share your experience will be a beacon of light for many, and help those who may face their own challenges. Be well, and keep following your heart.

Peace 🙏

 

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