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    Grammy Winners Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink on Their Life Partnership and New Film All Wigged Out

    By Irene Young–

    For the San Francisco Bay Times I recently interviewed Grammy-winning musicians Marcy Marxer and Cathy Fink on their life partnership and their musical theatrical film All Wigged Out, about Marcy’s breast cancer journey.

    Irene Young: Cathy, how and when did you and Marcy meet?

    Cathy Fink: We met in July of 1980 at the Toronto Folk Festival. Marcy was playing in an all-female string band from Michigan, The Bosom Buddies String Band. I was performing solo. The story is fully told in this piece called “Remembering Elizabeth Cotten or When Cathy Met Marcy.” (https://tinyurl.com/3fjmau9v ) It’s now been 40 years!

    Irene Young: Marcy, what year did you and I meet, and what was our first photo project?

    Marcy Marxer: I met you, Irene, in about 1982 or ’83 when I was playing with the Robin Flower Band in NYC. We came to your apartment on Bleecker Street before our Folk City gig. When we got to Folk City, I could see your photos on the walls. You later met Cathy through me.

    Cathy Fink: I know that our first photo project was the first Cathy & Marcy album on Sugar Hill Records, simply called Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. You took stunning duo photos. You also took the late-night photo that became the cover of Blue Rose on Sugar Hill with Cathy & Marcy, Laurie Lewis, Sally Van Meter, and Molly Mason. We have photos you’ve taken in every decade! 

    Irene Young: How did it feel to be in the public eye with your fanbase and community aware of Marcy’s diagnosis? Did you step back and take time alone together and focus only on Marcy’s health and treatment?

    Cathy Fink: Our main focus was Marcy’s health and treatment. I let her decide how public she wanted to be. We had been firstline caregivers for several friends who had cancer diagnoses. We did not know exactly what we were in for, but we had a good idea. We had plenty of time alone, and larger celebrations for every milestone; the “End of Chemo Party,” the “End of Radiation and 60th Birthday Party,” and five years later, the “End of Chemo Pills Party.” Meantime, Marcy kept folks posted via her Facebook page with humorous photos, cartoons, and thoughts about the whole thing. 

    Marcy Marxer: I told neighbors and friends about my initial diagnosis. We live in a great neighborhood and many people have young children.  I knew that I would look different for a while and that gave people a chance to explain it to their kids in their own way. Initially, the process seemed straightforward. It gradually became a problem because every time I talked with the doctor my diagnosis was worse. My story kept changing.  I started to consider not taking my doctor’s calls. Instead, I started making cryptic Facebook posts gently letting friends know what was happening. 

    Irene Young: Did you write All Wigged Out during or after Marcy’s treatment?

    Cathy Fink: The idea was germinating as Marcy posted hilarious things on Facebook. We also videotaped some really funny, but very helpful videos. Like one that Marcy did with her holding a bottle of moonshine to get peoples’ attention, then pivoting to an infomercial on head coverings for cancer patients. There was another about a hair growth remedy I heard about using onion juice. Marcy was both inspiring and honest at the same time and that made both good comedy and good communication. That was the real inspiration for “All Wigged Out.”

    Marcy Marxer: Cathy encouraged me to write down as many questions and physical feelings as possible to give reports to my medical team. My brain doesn’t really work in a linear way, so documenting symptoms isn’t what happened.  One day the Head Nurse said, “This treatment can cause leukemia, diabetes, and tooth loss. But don’t be worried unless you feel tired.” How is that possible when you’re in chemo? I asked, “Have you ever considered being a motivational speaker?” She smiled and answered with a yes! Woah! That’s what I wrote about that day.

    Irene Young: How did COVID impact your music and the creation of All Wigged Out?

    Cathy Fink: COVID was another “pivot” for our musical career. Since we had dealt with cancer, we were experienced with “pivots,” and we found more silver linings than anyone ever thought possible. We actually appreciated the time off the road, though would have preferred not to have missed out on some wonderful gigs. We organized and codirected 18 online music festivals. We filmed and edited at least 500 instructional videos on banjo, guitar, mandolin, and ukulele. We had finished cowriting All Wigged Out with Andy Offutt Irwin and had done about 5 in person readings. One of our canceled shows was the Capital Fringe Festival, which would have been the play’s debut. We gave that idea a rest, and a few months into lockdown, I realized that theaters would now be backed up for years in presenting new works. That’s when the idea of filming came to me. I immediately reached out to Scott Silberstein from HMS Media in Chicago. He was “in” and helped shepherd the project with Tracy Walsh as director. 

    Irene Young: Did either of you have previous acting experience?

    Cathy Fink: Well, I did play Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady in the 6th grade. I have always loved theater, but this would be my first acting experience. And I was dragged into it. Scott, Tracy, Marcy, Andy—everyone was convinced that since I was in the story anyway, I should be in the story on stage. After much convincing, I agreed. I just didn’t want to take anything away from Marcy’s story. 

    Marcy Marxer: I was a model for Hudson’s in Detroit before kindergarten. I was a kid who could sit or stand still for a long time. From there I was asked to model for art classes at Ohio State and Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. By the 4th grade I became the kid they would call when they needed someone for the college plays. I loved acting and jumped in with both feet in high school. I received scholarships to summer workshops and eventually to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena.

    Then, there came a crossroads between acting and music. I chose music because I didn’t have to wait for a production. I could work every day and practice any time. You might say I started acting like a musician.

    Irene Young: I understand you have received several awards from film festivals. Being Grammy winners, is it gratifying to garnish accolades in an additional art form?

    Cathy Fink: We’re always excited to artistically push ourselves in new directions. All Wigged Out was a totally new direction for us. We still pinch ourselves that we actually did it! We actually raised $85K via GoFundMe and private donations. We wrote and rewrote with Tracy in Zoom sessions; we rehearsed for a month in Evanston, IL. We made a band happen with Stacy McMichael (bass) and Janet Cramer (drums). Todd L. Clark built a set in a dance studio since there were no theaters open during COVID lockdown. There was so much hard work by us and others. We paid everyone a fair and decent wage when there wasn’t much artistic work going around. 

    Being selected for film festivals and getting awards from festivals is incredibly amazing. It means that what we have to say in our story is valuable to others, and that means the world to us. Just as rewarding is the fact that the American Association of Nurses is making the film available to their members during October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s meaningful that venues like the Starbright Theater are screening the film and that local cancer support communities are coming together at the Starbright to spread the word and extend community. The film makes it easier for people to talk about cancer instead of hide it or hide from it. There are nuggets for patients about self-care and advocacy. And while there’s nothing funny about cancer itself, Marcy is charming, hilarious, and poignant at the same time.

    Marcy Marxer: One thing I’ve always loved about your work, Irene, is the way you honor the people you photograph. You capture their spirit as only Irene Young can. Thank you for shining a light on All Wigged Out and for our wonderful long relationship. 

    Irene Young: Marcy, being a two-time breast cancer survivor myself, I was touched by your experience, and how you transformed it into art. And the songs are fabulous! Do you have an album available?

    Cathy Fink: Yes, it will be at our October 18 Starbright Theater (in Campbell) screening of All Wigged Out!

    For tickets and additional information: https://tinyurl.com/39kuusfh

    Photographer, videographer, and poet Irene Young has over 600 CD covers and thousands of promo photos to her credit. https://ireneyoungfoto.com/

    Arts & Entertainment
    Published on October 6, 2022