Here’s Dave Carter with Tracy Grammer from 2002, singing a song he had just written at the Sisters Folk Festival in Sisters, Oregon.
“Gentle Arms of Eden,” live on stage. This song may be the duo’s best known and has been incorporated into at least one Unitarian Universalist hymnal.
It’s hard to write about Carter without starting at the end. On the morning of July 19, 2002 in Hadley, MA, Carter went out for a run. When he returned to the hotel, he suffered a heart attack.
Tracy wrote their fans in an open letter on their website:
“Yesterday, shortly after he went unconscious, he came back for a lucid minute or two to tell me, ‘I just died… Baby, I just died…’ There was a look of wonder in his eyes, and though I cried and tried to deny it to him, I knew he was right and he was on his way. He stayed with me a minute more but despite my attempts to keep him with me, I could see he was already riding that thin chiffon wave between here and gone. He loved beauty, he was hopelessly drawn to the magic and the light in all things. I figure he saw something he could not resist out of the corner of his eye and flew into it.”
Dave Carter was 49 years old.
It doesn’t embed here, but there is a nice 2002 interview with the couple (and they were a couple, as well as a duo) from ArtsBeat Oregon from Oregon Public Broadcasting here.
More background on Dave and Tracy can be found in a review and interview by David Bulla in the Music Matters Review. Some highlights from that story:
Carter describes his parents: steeped in math and science and also touched by the Holy Spirit and evangelism. Dave eventually made his way to Portland, OR to study math there. He worked as a computer programmer and mathematician before turning to folk music in his 40s.
Meanwhile, Grammer studied English and anthropology at UC Berkeley:
“Through a combination of studies I unearthed a love for Native American literatures. Dave’s songs are full of Native American imagery and the very first time I heard him play, I felt an instant connection, like he might be the place where all of the things I truly loved—language, anthropology, and music—would finally come together.”
Carter cites a number of songwriting heroes, including Joni Mitchell, the Beatles’ psychedelic period and the Dukes of Stratosphear (an XTC project to produce records in the late 1960s psychedelic pop style), as well as “Leonard Cohen, Emmylou Harris, Sean Colvin, Buck Owens, Miles Davis, Dwight Yokum, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Waylon Jennings.”
Grammer described meeting Carter in Portland:
“I heard Dave play two songs toward the end of a Portland Songwriters’ Association showcase. I tell you, it’s like the entire room disappeared. I was deeply moved and instantly drawn in but far too shy to do anything more than recognize the power of Dave’s music and hope that some day I could play with someone like him. Thanks to luck and timing, we met on the way out the door. I was carrying my violin, having played with another songwriter earlier in the evening We were introduced, he noticed my instrument, and invited me to play with his band sometime. ‘It’ll never happen,’ I thought to myself. ‘Sure,’ I said. But he really did call, and I really did go to that first practice, and we’ve been playing together ever since.”
Carter on songwriting:
“I hear music and lyrics in my dreams a lot of times, and I get up and write them down. I pay a lot of attention to my dreams, and whenever I can, I try to keep myself in a creative, daydreamy sort of state. I’m interested in shamanic work and meditation, and I think it’s beneficial for an artist to walk with one foot in the waking world and one foot in the dream world.”
Joyce Marcel, a writer and fan, wrote an obituary for Carter (and Alan Lomax, who died the same day) in which she contemplated the recipe of Carter’s songwriting:
Dave was the son of an evangelist mother and a mathematician father, hence a life-long tension between the mystic and the logical. His solution, I think, was to write his words from his mystical place and then watch the mathematician take delight in squeezing them into complicated and super-fast rhythms. Then, Tracy complained, he made her sing them.
A week after Carter’s death, the duo were scheduled to perform at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Tracy Grammer went alone.
From a review by Jennifer Hanson in Rambles:
The memorials to Dave Carter were many. They began during the Emerging Artist Showcase on Friday afternoon with Don Conoscenti’s dedication of his song “The Other Side” to an unnamed friend whose identity was not difficult to figure out. Guitar wizard Jeff Lang played a short instrumental version of Carter’s song “When I Go” during his main stage set, then said simply, “Thank you, Dave Carter.”
In place of Dave and Tracy’s set, Grammer sang Carter’s “The Mountain” to open a series of performances of Carter’s songs. She closed with “Gentle Soldier of My Soul.”
Grammer also spoke; she was clearly moved by the standing ovations she received by way of greeting and farewell. Considering everything she had been through, her composure was nothing short of remarkable.
Tracy Grammer continues to perform Dave Carter’s songs and has released music they had recorded before his untimely death.
As a duo, they had always performed Carter’s songs. After his passing, Grammer wrote her first original composition, a eulogy for Carter called “The Verdant Mile”:
At Falcon Ridge on the 10th anniversary of Dave Carter’s death:
[Bonus for Grammer and NFS fans: you can find her cover of Carole King's "Wasn't Born to Follow" on Spotify]