Cambridge, MA eccentric genius
Consider Marcia Deihl, a Cambridge singer, writer, and activist, who died one year ago, on March 11, 2015, at the age of 65. Here are two photos, bookends of a tumultuous generation: in one, Deihl (DGE’69, CAS’71), circa 1979, in a long skirt, brown hair cascading from a newsboy cap, flashes a Mona Lisa grin as she poses with a battered VW Beetle. It’s a photo that people my age—61—recognize. In the second photo, taken in 2015 in front of a swirly Sol LeWitt canvas at MASS MoCA, the smile is broad, confident, and contagious, the now-silver hair separated girlishly in multiple braids. This is the image that accompanied reports of her death, notices that drew scores of comments from friends and admirers. Her death happened in an instant: riding her bike home from Whole Foods in Cambridge port at 1:30 in the afternoon, she was struck by a dump truck on Putnam Avenue. The bike, a three-speed she had festooned with streamers and paper flowers, was her SUV—“simple utilitarian vehicle”—which she used to navigate the city she loved and that loved her back. Deihl sought answers. She graduated from BU with a degree in music history and education, and became neither famous nor rich. On the surface, her life was not what many might consider enviable. Her legion of friends and acquaintances were stunned by the profound wrongness of her sudden passing. A few of her songs live on in a recording by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the nonprofit label of the Smithsonian Institution. Deihl’s papers on women’s music, and the diaries she wrote in every day for more than 50 years, will reside in the archives of the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. The ruminations reflect the fertile minds of a generation of seekers looking for meaning in ways that seemed strange, reckless, even worrying to many of their parents.