Thursday, September 17, 2009

Peter, Paul and Mary

This photo is from the official Peter, Paul and Mary Web page, which at the moment includes photos of Mary & the band and statements from Peter and Paul and others about the recent news.

We lost a piece of music history last night when Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary died. She was a part of one of the most important bands in the history of American folk music, and seemed to be a treasure of a person as well. It’s no use to ask if Peter, Paul and Mary will ever perform together again - the answer is painfully clear. It’s like asking “Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?”

When compact disks first began to appear on the scene in the late 1980s, my family and I were not immediately drawn to them. We were die-hard record collectors, for goodness sake. But I also knew that the times, they were a-changing, and we should keep our eyes on this new technology. When the classic “10 Years Together” album by Peter, Paul and Mary was released on CD a bit later, I realized that this was the sign I had been waiting for. CDs were here. I had to put that one on my wish list.

The band has an important hold in the history of my family. Before my father met my mother, they both collected albums by Peter, Paul and Mary. When they met, they found that the albums my Mom had were the ones Dad was missing, and the ones Dad had were the ones Mom was missing. It was meant to be, I tell you.

After John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the news media focused their attention on the tragedy for the next several days. After the coverage was over, and the radio began to return to regular programming, the first song that was played on “the sound of inspiration,” a radio station Dad listened to, was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul and Mary. Here it is again, written by Bob Dylan and in tribute to Dad and my teacher Mr. Kaye and everyone else in the 5th grade who sang along with him.

But first by way of introduction: Once upon a time, there was a man who wanted to know the secrets of life. He climbed a high mountain and asked a wise guru who lived there what the answer to life was. The guru wrote down the answer on a piece of paper, and the man carried it down the mountain to read it later. It was a windy day, and as the man walked down the streets to his home, the paper flew out of his hands. He raced furiously to try to catch it, but to no avail. Eventually, he was stopped by another man who held his shoulders and said, “Be careful! What is it you’re trying to find?” The first man replied by singing this song.


How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
How many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?
How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?
How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

How many times can a man look up before he can see the sky?
How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
How many deaths will it take ‘till he knows that too many people have died?
The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

HE LIVES, PRESENT TENSE: The songs of Peter, Paul and Mary exemplify the kind of entertainment that I’ve found I enjoy quite a bit. They are simple songs, but not so simple. There is a depth of meaning in them that makes them truly timeless. As an example, it would be careless of me to post about PP&M without talking about Puff. Like “Blowin’ in the wind,” I don’t recall the first time I heard “Puff the Magic Dragon.” I do recall one of the first times, though. Back in 2nd grade or so a young lady came to our classroom in the round building to perform some songs on her guitar. “Puff” was the one I remember and enjoyed. I also remember my Grandma and I serenading my Dad with the first two lines of the song. Lots of fun. I’m glad we didn’t do the whole thing, though.

There was a “Puff” animated TV special in the late 1970s that I still enjoy to this day. It’s a kind of tearjerker for me due to obvious reasons. It’s about a boy who must learn to come out of his shell and grow up. Puff helps him along the way at the start, but at the end he must leave the boy and let him do the rest of the growing by himself. The special also features “Weave me the sunshine” at the end, another great song. And the legendary Burgess Meredith was the voice of Puff.

Leave it to the stupid grown-ups to come up with a theory that the song “Puff” is actually about illegal drugs. Desperate, man. As Peter Yarrow said during a comic intro to the song, “There was never any meaning intended other than the obvious one!” Here’s the obvious meaning for you, written by Peter Yarrow and Leonard Lipton.


Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sails.
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail.
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’r they came.
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name.

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys.
Painted wings and giant’s rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more,
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain.
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave.
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

Oh, Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea,
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Okay folks, as I was typing in those lines that begin with “a dragon lives forever,” I found something unusual appearing out of my eyes. It appears to be water of some kind. I’ve wiped them away now. I share that with you to make the point of how incredibly wonderful the song is, and how deeply I love it. That stuff in my eyes has been coming out a lot lately. . .

SO CLOSE: I very rarely go to concerts, but Peter, Paul and Mary were one of the few bands that I had a strong desire to go see live. It wasn’t meant to be, but I came very, very close. A few years ago, they planned to perform at the California Center of the Performing Arts in Escondido, not too far away. I excitedly bought two tickets for the show, only to receive a letter from ticket services manager Erin Peck dated September 26, 2007 that the show was being postponed:

You may have already heard from us by phone, but just in case we wanted to notify you by mail as well. Due to Mary’s recovery from a back surgery, the CCAE performance of PETER, PAUL & MARY on Friday November 16, 2007 has been postponed to Friday April 18, 2008 at 8pm.

This was not a big deal for me. I was willing to wait, and it gave me more time to try and find a date. But sadly, I received another letter from Ms. Peck dated February 29, 2008:

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the upcoming performance of PETER, PAUL & MARY on April 18, 2008 has been cancelled. We have been informed that Mary Travers has undergone two back surgeries and, while her doctors anticipate a full recovery, the healing process is taking longer than hoped. On her doctor’s advice, regrettably, the Trio has had to cancel all of their upcoming concerts.

Thankfully, the venue was very good about giving my money back. Also thankfully, I think Peter, Paul & Mary were able to give a few more concerts in these last few years - just not at the Escondido venue. And for you die-hard pack rats like me, here is the ticket to the Peter, Paul & Mary show that never was.


THINGS TO WATCH FOR: There is a Christmas special with Peter, Paul and Mary that stands out as one of the best concerts I’ve seen on TV. It’s PP&M singing along with a choir in the background for many of the songs. It’s a marvelous show that I hope PBS brings back one of these years. It was made available on home video for a time as well. A great demonstration of how their timeless music fits in so well with the timeless tunes of Christmas. You also might consider their “Flowers and stones” album. From the late 1980s, I think, it’s one of their lesser-known albums, but it has a few really good songs on it, including “No man’s land” and “Coming of the roads.”

CARRY IT ON: In an interview with PP&M not long after their albums were first released on CD, Peter Yarrow said that Warner Brothers had made a commitment to keep the music of PP&M, as well as other bands, a part of their music library for the long-range future. Assuming they’re still behind that, I breathe a sigh of relief that generations after our own will enjoy their beautiful music. In fact, even if somehow we lost all of the PP&M music, their music would still live on. No, that isn't a typo. You see, their music goes beyond what they played as a trio. It is the spirit of folk music itself, the beauty that comes from three people using their talents to create something that speaks to every generation and stays in the hearts of the listeners long after the music is over. Their music is very much a part of my life forever.

FAVORITE PP&M SONGS: Blowin’ in the wind; Puff the Magic Dragon; Day is Done; Too much of nothing’; Stewball; Light one candle; Coming of the roads; No man’s Land; Danny’s Downs; If I had a hammer; Kisses sweeter than wine; Wedding Song; Weave me the sunshine; 500 Miles; I dig rock & roll music; Leavin’ on a jet plane; The great Mandala; El Salvador;

COMING SOON: A musical mystery regarding the Disneyland Hotel and the man who made “Hey Paula” famous.