Mudcat Café message #132619 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #15062   Message #132619
Posted By: WyoWoman
06-Nov-99 - 02:03 PM
Thread Name: WyoWoman's Peter, Paul & Mary article
Subject: WyoWoman's Peter, Paul & Mary article
Friends: I know this is a huge file, but I couldn't figure out a better way to do this. Sorry for the delay -- my life has been in hyperspace recently. This is the article (published in the paper I work for) that I wrote on PPM's appeareance here in Wyoming, with notes from the interview attached at the bottom. (I did the questions in bold -- or at least tried to -- and hope it's readable on everyone's servers...) Thanks to the 'catters for helping me put this together.

Best, WW

Peter, Paul and Mary 'Light One Candle' in UW Concert

Their Laramie concert is called "Light One Candle," and for 37 years that call to activism has been the defining philosophy of folk ensemble Peter, Paul & Mary.

Their voices, once described as "two cellos and an angel," have articulated a variety of social causes as vast as the American continent and beyond, prodding public consciousness of wages, working conditions, war and the incessant need of human beings to respect, value and appreciate each other. Their music has opened up worlds for its listeners, introducing much of the Sixties generation to this thing called folk music, and ultimately to folk - to people and community and a cultural view that connects them.

Peter, Paul & Mary's visit to Laramie helps mark the first anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student slain in a 1998 bludgeoning some say was motivated by hatred of gays. The Wyoming performance is part of a national tour to promote the group's new CD, "Songs of Conscience & Concern," certain to make any of the Sixties' "sweet survivors" misty-eyed with memory of arms linked and fists raised in support of, or protest against, the causes that ignited their passions.

Ask anyone over 40 where they were or what they were doing when they heard "Blowin' in the Wind," or "If I Had a Hammer," "If I Were Free," or any of a dozen P,P &M songs and you'll hear a chronicle of some amazing decades. That the trio lived more than simply sang their songs gave - continues to give - their music a reality beyond its entertainment value. For four decades they have stood with leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez, involved themselves with crusades against war, hunger and intolerance, performed at demonstrations, fund-raisers and "teach- ins," and still managed to record some of America's most enduring traditional and contemporary music. One of the group's shared passions, then and now, is the idea that people belong together and that our connections can be bridged. Matthew Shepard's gruesome death underscores the importance of that message, Mary Travers says.

"It's an important moment for us to observe in Laramie," she said in a telephone interview. "We want to celebrate the importance of acceptance, of affirming people regardless of what their social position in life is, or their sexual orientation or their politics. Fear of The Other, of people who are different — these are the issues we must address. If it isn't the Jew, it's the gay, if it isn't the black, it's the woman — we have all at one time or the other been the vulnerable ones.

"This country was founded by and for vulnerable people and we need to recognize that fact. I know it's a lot to ask for, that we stop victimizing others because we're unhappy ourselves. But that's certainly something we have to try for."

Travers and the group's other two members, Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, have a long-standing interest in improving the lives of children and young people, a commitment as unwavering now as it was in the 1960s and '70s when the ensemble performed on college campuses throughout the world. The young people of the 1990s may be more cynical and sophisticated than their predecessors, Travers says, but with good reason.

"Of course they're cynical," she says. "They live in a society that doesn't respect them. Our schools are worse than they ever were. There's no health care for them unless their parents have insurance. They aren't protected by society. Their parents are living in a society that allows corporations to stay vibrant on the stock market by downsizing. ...

"All the values that used to run America - 'Work hard, be disciplined, it'll pay off' - have been replaced with 'Work hard, be disciplined and you can be fired.' So the question isn't how we can get our kids to like folk music, but ... how do we introduce the simple, everyday values of caring into our society. How do we say, 'People count'?"

The remedy, Travers says, is for each person to work toward creating a just and caring community wherever she or he might be. As for choosing which cause to address out of the sometimes overwhelming abundance of human misery, Travers says, just pick one.

"Pick the thing that annoyed you the most this morning," she says. "Pick the one you bump your nose on and then go from there.

"The funny thing about being involved is that as soon as you get involved in one issue, you're into something else five minutes later. Caring is like the burrs that catch on my dog's fur - it just attaches to everything, all interconnected. But if we care about one thing that's selfless in our lives - if we could just get to that ...."

Audience members at Sunday's concert can expect the legendary trio to sing a satisfying selection of its familiar repertoire, as well as some new songs they've added to their list. This balance of old and new has been a hallmark of the group from the beginning, a practice that has earned them dismissal by some folk purists as merely a "pop" group. It is a combination that has kept the trio viable over what for any musical group is a very long haul, creating an ongoing "conversation" that reflects the group member's continually evolving concerns.


(I told her that I'd posted the fact that I was interviewing her on the Mudcat and that Mudcateers had provided some questions of their own. She seemed really happy that shew as going to break out of the standard, repetitive interview routine. I was only given about 20 minutes for the interview. We went slightly over, and I could hear the sounds of cooking and table-setting going on in the background. At the end of the interview, she said, "Well, the chicken's done and it's beautiful. I'm going to eat now," and that was that. - WW)

Whatever happened to all the great sidemen who've played with you?

Dick Kniss and Paul Prestepino both are still working with us and on this tour. Dick — 36 years with us, seven years off for "good behavior" during which he worked with John Denver.

We'll tour about 40 cities this year -- which definitely keeps you au courant with every airport on the planet. And let me tell you, they're designed by hideous people with no thought to their effect on older people. The walks are so long, and God forbid you should get scheduled someplace far, far away from your first flight.

In the Village kicking around when the likes of Fred Neil (sp?) were around

Actually, I wasn't kicking around all that much. I was singing more as a hobby about that time...Freddy Neil I knew when he was working in the village along with all of us, and I'd like to know what happened to Freddy Neil. Last I heard he was in Florida. (ANYONE KNOW? I TOLD HER I'D LET HER KNOW IF I FIND OUT...) Such a talented man and such a great voice, like double rich chocolate.

Do you make a conscious effort to sing the old music and to unearth "new" traditional music?

Oh, sure, we're always listening to stuff, we all have pretty good reference libraries. Often when you listen to more traditional collections like Mississippi John Hurt, you might hear a fabulous one that didn't catch you the first time 'round, but just knocks you out this time.

Try to make it a balance, between traditional material and the material that either the guys are writing or that Peter's discovering in places like the folk festival (Kerrville) in Texas. He's always bringing back the latest stuff and stuff the young people are writing.

Do you think folk music dying out? Don't count it out yet. There are all kinds of people who are interested in music in different ways. There will always be people — we used to call them purists — who will want to do it exactly the way it used to be done in the 17thcentury. They don't want to change a hair of it. And that group might be small, but they are the keepers of the flame. They sometimes can be a pain, because they're snobs. That's okay. Chamber music is kept alive by a certain kind of snob. Opera is kept alive by a certain kind of snob. None of these forms are popular in the sense of being able to sustain themselves.

So there's a place for elitists — though you might not want to live with them (laughs). You can certainly borrow from them.

There are some very wonderful young people doing incredible stuff right now.

Think folk music is ever going to be top of the charts again?

I don't know. But it isn't necessary for it to be top of the charts to survive, and basically what we're asking is only that a musical form survive and have vitality to it. And it has survived and it has vitality .

Opening up trad music to all of us...

Absolutely. It started with the Weavers and moved forward. What occured in the '50s and '60s was that folk music ceased to be just regional and became a national folk music. In order for it to survive, that step was absolutely necessary. The purists may decry it, but in order for a form to survive — especially something that has been sustained by the oral tradition — people have to keep singing. Radio allowed folk music to become an American tradition. Not just Boston whaling songs, or Kentucky mountain ballads and never the twain shall meet. They became an American genre. Certainly some of the classical musicians had that idea in generations past...

The 20th century was the era of American music all over the world — from Gershwin to Mississippi John Hurt— you could have heard his records in Japan in the mid-1960s. The world has become very cosmopolitan, which is a good thing as long as the purists keep the flame going and keep the music's core intact.

Her strong, unapologetic approach to singing: Thanks to Ronnie Gilbert... up until I heard Ronnie, I thought all folk singers sounded like Joan Baez or had these little reedy soprano voices. Ronnie sounded like an express train: Get on board or get out of the way. And I loved that.

Ah, here's s good one: What is folk/trad music? Yeah, that is good. It can only be defined by narrowly defining your parameters. Someone asks you what is science and you have to say, Which science? What is folk music? Technically, folk music in the past is the music that has been transmitted by the oral tradition. But when there's another way to transmit music.... to me, those labels just make life difficult. If you can do it by yourself with an easily portable instrument, it's probably folk music (laughs...)

young people? The question is not how can we get our kids to love folk music, but how can we reintroduce values — and I don't mean the values presidential candidates spout — but I'm talking about the simple, everyday "I care about you and you care about me" values. How do we reintroduce those values into our society? How do we say "People count, " and making a killing on the stock market is not the ultimate goal of every human being?

How do we have a caring society when only 36 percent of our population votes?

Can't lay the blame on any one corner of the populace. We ALL have to say, enough already, we're not gonna take it any more and let's do something.

I think the thing gets me most worried about our young people is that they we don't see passion in them. It's a great many things — I don't know the answer to that.

Think one of the problems in society is that our society is so sexually driven, but in a cynical way. It's very strange -- tenderness, passion, compassion, empathy — those are the things we need to start looking at.

(And then it was time for chicken...--ww)