Thursday, September 17, 2009

For Mary Travers, Wherever You Are.

I was born in 1977, so strictly speaking, I had very little personal knowledge of the issues and themes that motivated the 1960s political folk music movement. Free love? Civil Rights? Anti-war protests? Bob Dylan? By the time I became aware of music beyond nursery songs and lullabies, the social costs of free love were about to catch up with us in the form of the AIDS virus, the Civil Rights Movement had passed its political apex, the Vietnam War was over, and Bob Dylan was reinventing himself as a Born Again Christian. But largely thanks to my mother, the inimitable Captain Mommypants, I might as well have grown up 20 years earlier. How many other girls of my generation can speak with any degree of fluency about "the 27 8x10 color glossy photos with the circles and the arrows and the writin' on the back?" Let me tell you, not so many, and I'm in a position to know.

One of my mother's favorite groups (and thus, one of mine) was Peter, Paul, and Mary. We played those tapes until they shredded, and once they shredded, we just bought more. I grew up on that music. So when I heard on NPR this morning that Mary Travers had died, I felt... well I felt bereaved, there's really no other word for it. I put down my Cheerios, picked up my little dog, sat on the couch for a few minutes and just let myself feel sad, because something wonderful lived in that woman, and what she shared with the world, what she shared with me, shaped the world we live in, and shaped the person I became. I guess a lot of people are going to write meaningful obituaries that speak about her professional accomplishments, so there's no need to rehash those details here. Instead, I'm just going to post a few videos of PPM performing some of my favorite songs, and let you know that this morning while I biked to work I put my Peter Paul and Mary playlist on my iPod and as I listened to Mary's beautiful voice, I cried.

I cried when I listened to them sing Puff the Magic Dragon. In fact, that's when the crying started, right when they got to the line, "Jackie Paper came no more."

I cried through If I Had a Hammer, because my god, do we need people who feel this strongly speaking out today.

and Blowin' in the Wind, because... well, just because. It's blowin' in the wind.

In my early 20s I worked as a backpacking guide for a state-run "hoods in the woods" program in Utah, and I'd bribe my kids to be good with the promise of a lullaby at night. They had a choice of any number of Peter, Paul, and Mary songs, but their favorites were 500 Miles and Blowin' in the Wind. My favorites, too. So when I cried through 500 Miles I was crying for Mary Travers, but I was also crying for those young men in the wilderness, many of them well on their way toward becoming hardened thugs, and all of them desperate for a little bit of love.

Most people my age broke their concert teeth on the New Kids on the Block or MC Hammer, but not me. My first concert ever was Peter, Paul, and Mary. And trust me. There was nobody at that amphitheater more excited to see these folk legends than I was. I remember at one point a jet flew overhead while Mary was introducing a song, and she had to stop speaking. She waited for the noise to quiet, and then held up her hands to the audience. "If there's one thing I've learned in all my years," she said, "it is that often it is better to simply wait. Because this, too, shall pass." The audience laughed as she'd intended them to, but that particular piece of wisdom stuck in my 14 year old mind like a burr. So Mary Travers, wherever you are, thank you. Thank you for gifting this world with wonderful music, for caring and working hard for important social issues, for trying to make the world a better place. But thank you also, just from me, for telling me that "this too shall pass." You have no idea how many times that has helped me get through the harder parts of life.

That's all I've got for today, so I'll leave you with one last song, should you want to listen. It's one of my favorites, but not a famous PPM recording. It's called The First Time.

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