Margaret is the story of Margaret Rucker, a poet born in 1907, who was rediscovered when Chicken John Rinaldi rediscovered a scrapbook about her entirely by chance in a dumpster. The handful of her poems that could be found are unexpectedly beautiful, and have the effect of haunting one after reading. Webley shared the story with other friends and musicians who read her work, and when they felt a similar effect, they made an album. Said album is comprised of fifteen tracks that are either inspired by Margaret’s life and the scrapbook, or are renditions of her poems put to music. I have become far more emotionally invested in Margaret than I originally anticipated. The project was unexpected; the last I had heard of Jason Webley, whose music I’ve long followed and loved, he was taking a very long break from touring. Then there was a silence, and then there was this album that has made me feel so many things.
I am in the business of remembering things and people who are long dead. Everyone wants to be remembered. Souls in Hell beg Dante to bring their names to light when he returns to the world of the living. Achilles trades the possibility of a long, peaceful life for an early death in battle and an eternity of fame. Margaret Rucker, from what evidence can be found, did not aspire to great fame or for immortality via memory; she lived a life that could be described as not out of the ordinary, wrote a few beautiful poems that have survived, and has since become part of a really good story.
Margaret is a project, not the first and probably not the last, that has made me think a lot about how time goes on longer than people do. A more well known aphorism from Welcome to Night Vale goes, “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.” And really, Margaret is only the beginning of the story. She died in 1959, but the scrapbook was only discovered in the 90’s (no one knows when it was made or who made it), and it was after that that she came into the lives of the musicians, and then to everyone who listened to their music. In this sense, Margaret is a reminder that things, stories, art, feelings, sometimes people, can last past the act of dying; that your end is not the end.
For me, Margaret is not only a voice to calm the dread of the inevitability, to show that death is not an expiration date on how you can affect your world, Margaret is also a reminder not to overlook the story while you’re still living it. In the Kickstarter video for the project, Webley says, “…the story represents what I find heartbreakingly magical and beautiful. I think about, when I’m gone, what do I wish was left behind, you know, will I want streets and buildings and neighborhoods named after me, or will I just wish that I was part of a good story?”
There’s a lesson here, that there’s no such thing as garbage, that our lives extend further and longer than anyone can imagine or predict. There’s a question that is echoed in Webley’s song, Pyramid: when I’m gone, what will I want?
I think there’s a goal here too, to be part of a good story.