Musing of a Contemporary Pathologist

Peter, Paul and Mary

Last week, my wife, Kate, and I went to hear a concert given by Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey. The night of February 17 was miserable because of a ferocious, record-breaking rainstorm and high winds. We started out for the 8:00 PM concert at 3:30 PM for three reasons: the terrible weather conditions, the fact that it was a Friday (which means horrendous late afternoon traffic in Los Angeles), and because it was at the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza, more than 40 miles from our home. The decision to leave that early proved to be wise since it took well over 2 hours to get to the area and find the venue for the concert.

We found a space in the parking structure very close to the theater entrance and made a quick visit, umbrellas up, to the nearby Chinese restaurant for dinner. When we returned the cozy building was open and, until the doors to the concert hall opened at 7:30, we enjoyed the art adorning the walls. We also had a lively conversation with an exceedingly affable and witty volunteer usher born in, of all places, Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

The theater was almost full with hundreds of other energized, loyal fans, almost all about the same age as we are; gray hair was the dominant fashion statement.

To say that the concert was not a disappointment would be a gross understatement. It was wonderful! Peter and (Noel) Paul were clearly joined (at least in spirit) by Mary Travers. The audience members were also more than willing partners-in-song as the indelible words and immediately familiar music poured from the indomitable folk-singers whose voices are as strong and full as always, whose guitar-strumming fingers are as nimble as always, despite the fact that Stookey is 79 and Yarrow is 78 (Mary, who died of leukemia in 2009, would have been 80).

Peter Noel Paul singing

Although there was more than a hint of Mary throughout the first half of the concert, there was no doubt of her influence in the second half where the underlying theme for many of the songs was political activism. Stookey started with a solo rendition of his new lyric, Impeachable, sung to the very familiar melody, Unforgettable. You can hear this song on YouTube:

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJKOzwNzPek).

Soon after Peter Yarrow sang the anti-bullying song from so many years ago: Don’t Laugh at Me. You can hear the entire trio sing this:

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziLiIPViM2E).

Where Have All the Flowers Gone was sung with everyone in the hall draping an arm over their neighbor’s shoulder and swaying with the music. Blowing in the WindIf I had a Hammer500 Miles, and so many other familiar songs filled the hall until the concert ended with Woody Guthrie’s This Land is My Land. The sweet sound of Mary Travers’ voice was in our minds, if not actually in our ears.

In the late 1980s I happened to walk into a pharmacy on 6th Avenue between 57th and 58th Streets in Manhattan and there, instantly recognizable to me, one of her devoted fans, was Mary Travers; she was waiting at the counter for a prescription. More than 20 years before, in the ’60s, I came to regard the trio as genuine American heroes for their courageous efforts during the Civil Rights era, the Vietnam years, for women’s right to choose, for respect for AIDS victims, and on and on and on, and, despite my being star-struck, Mary and I talked for a while about those hopeful days. It was easy to recall how the trio carried the torch of social commentary they inherited from Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and the Weavers. And also easy to remember that Peter, Paul and Mary marched to Selma and sang at the 1963 Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream” civil rights march in Washington.

Peter Paul Mary singing

Both Yarrow and Stookey always acknowledged, and continue to acknowledge, that Mary Travers was the fierce and powerful conscience of the group, prodding them to be as outspoken as possible, urging them to do one more free concert for a cause in which they believed. Talking with Mary Travers that evening, three decades ago, reinforced that image for me; I was talking to a genuinely warm and exceedingly powerful woman. Needless to say, I was an even more devoted fan after that memorable, chance meeting.

These are different times with optimism and hope battered each day. So many of us feel that we are being led by people without vision, knowledge and experience. The children of darkness who are currently so powerful across our country would likely, if they could, prevent Peter and Noel Paul from reaching out as effectively as they did the last time we needed them. Driving home through the slightly less intense rain, the joy of the concert became mollified by the harsh realities we now face.

An early version of this commentary was read by Gerry Pomper (http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~gpomper/), a friend of mine who is a distinguished and renowned political scientist. Gerry wrote: “Take heart, we did more than blow in the wind before, and the political weather will again be sunny, if we work for the change.” I responded: “Thank you for the (much needed) encouraging words. It is still a gray, rainy day here in southern California but, I am relieved to say, this weekend has, thus far, been free of new ill-conceived missives (or missiles!) from the golf course at Mar-a-Lago …”

This land IS our land. Let us all work for the change.

 

7 Responses to “Peter, Paul and Mary”

  1. Herb Goldberg says:

    Good thoughts, As always….enjoyed remembering.

  2. John Craig says:

    Wonderful memories for me as well. I appreciate your writing and glad you were able to attend this concert. Last week while watching KQED fund raiser, there again were the performance of this group and others.. so I bought the deal. soon to arrive DVD’s of the old concerts.

  3. Max Robinowitz says:

    Thanks for the memories. I wish I could have joined in.

  4. Joel Bernstein says:

    I also had a chance meeting with Peter, Paul and Mary. Mine was in a parking lot in Atlantic City in the early 1960s as the 3 of them piled into an open sports car. It made me even more conscious of their talent and their impact.

    Again a perceptive and articulate piece that reflects what so many of us feel. Thanks for producing your blog and taking us with you down memory lane.

  5. The notification list for this blog includes almost 200 names. Of interest is the fact that two on my list knew him in high school (High School for Music and Art in New York) and two others knew him in college (Cornell).

  6. Joan Stevens says:

    Early 60s I heard Peter sing in the Village. He said he was starting a new group and introduced Mary. It was a wonderful evening. I recognized her as the woman I’d seen often in Washington Square Park, so recognizable in her short skirt and wonderful blonde hair

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