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Making Peace

Mary Gauthier finds her way to mercy

By Gabe Meline

Even if, like me, you've only heard the song "Mercy Now" by Mary Gauthier once, chances are it has stuck in your consciousness and continued to play in your head, providing an eerie, calming beacon.

It takes enormous will to make a direct plea for mercy--especially in such an infuriating national climate. With a day off from touring at a remote cabin near Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, Gauthier (pronounced "go-shay") has a chance to explain the song's roots.

"That song started with me dealing with my father's Alzheimer's," she says in her loping, Louisiana-born drawl, "this man that I once feared and was so incredibly angry at--he was an alcoholic, and he was not good to my mother, and I just spent a lifetime being angry at him. As he got sicker, he just became helpless, and being angry at him was just no longer the right reaction. He changed, and I had to change; the song is born from having compassion for my dad for maybe the first time in my life."

What's amazing about the song is that her father occupies only the first verse; each successive verse bestows mercy on her brother, her church and her country, until finally, Gauthier declares that "every living thing could use a little mercy now." Gauthier says it's one of those songs that simply spilled out, rushing through her as though she were merely its conduit. "It grew into this thing, into this big thing!" she says. "I don't know how that happened. It just took off on its own, like riding a wild horse."

Gauthier, who appears Feb. 25 at Studio E, has been on a wild horse of her own for the past five years. After selling the restaurant she ran for a decade, she moved to Nashville with the express intention of making it in the music business. More and more, Nashville looks for young up-and-comers, and Gauthier didn't write her first song until she was 35. At the time, her confidence was pretty low.

"I just knew that I wasn't gonna get good at it if I did it for a hobby," she explains. "I mean, I was just risking it all. It was more audacity than confidence."

Though her songwriting shined, the beast of the business was cruel at first. "I was used to making money," she says, "and then suddenly, when I sold the restaurant, I had to get used to working really hard for no money at all."

Gauthier remembers the first time she performed in Sebastopol, opening for Richard Shindell. "His bottle of wine cost more than I got paid," she laughs. "I specifically remember that. But you know what, I probably wasn't worth more than $50. Nobody knew who I was, and you've gotta do that for a lot of years to get to where there's any value attached to your name."

Gauthier's legend as a compelling live performer and ever-evolving songwriter grew, and her perseverance eventually paid off. Her newest album, Mercy Now (Lost Highway), has received universal acclaim, and Gauthier is finally seeing the world catch up with her talents. Just days earlier, she had performed at the Grand Ole Opry on a bill with Porter Wagoner, Patty Loveless and Charley Pride, and over the phone, she still glows with amazement.

"I grew up listening to the Opry," Gauthier gushes, "and I never expected--ever, ever expected--that I would be invited to be there. You know, I'm just living this crazy dream. I feel incredibly lucky."

With all of this gratitude going around, doesn't Gauthier ever get angry? "Of course I get angry," she says. "I can't even look at the president on TV, I have to turn it off. But he's not America, he's just a guy with a timer over his head--three years and counting.

"As you get older," Gauthier continues, evoking the message of "Mercy Now," "you start to wanna make peace. If you're angry all the time, you get angry reactions in return. There's something to that."

Mary Gauthier performs with Thomm Jutz on Saturday, Feb. 25, at Studio E in Sebastopol. The show is sold-out. To beg for tix, call 707.542.7143.

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From the February 22-28, 2006 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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