Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers Revisited

[Tonight we remember folksinger Mary Travers, who has just passed away at the age of 72. According to the website: "After successful recovery from leukemia through a bone marrow/stem cell transplant, Mary succumbed to the side effects of one of the chemotherapy treatments." We here at mwbh are reprinting a piece highlighting the trio of Peter Paul and Mary, from our Summer of Love series of 2007.]

It is safe to say that the 1960s was a transformative decade in terms of the popular culture. But much of that could be narrowed down just to the period of 1963 to 1968. The former saw the untimely assassination of a young and charismatic American president, who spoke of how "the torch has been passed to a new generation." The latter was also witness to a senseless death, that of Martin Luther King Jr, and to the urban rioting and campus protests that followed. Both were reflected in the social commentary put to music.

Among the most notable of folk balladeers were the trio known as Peter Paul and Mary (consisting of Peter Yarrow, Noel "Paul" Stookey and Mary Travers). They were put together in 1961 by a manager named Albert Grossman, who wanted "a tall blonde (Travers), a funny guy (Stookey) and a good looking guy (Yarrow)." Everybody needs a gimmick, right? It must have worked, because they have been together ever since.

The first clip is from a 1963 performance of a song entitled "If I Had A Hammer." Interspersed is a commentary by its composer, Pete Seeger. I decided to include it anyway.

As a boy, and a budding guitar player, I wore out the family's copy of Peter Paul and Mary's 1963 album "In the Wind." It was released by Warner Brothers in October 1963, one month before the Kenndey assassination, and a few months before The Beatles landed in America to herald "the British Invasion." It was a time when what some of us call "the folk music scare" was at its peak. The increasing popularity of the new sound, combined with the waning of the "hootenanny" craze, did not deter the urgency of PP&M's social message, even though before the end of the decade, it may have gotten a little hazy. The first time I saw the performance in the clip below was in 1968. Now, if someone could only tell me what the hell these people are trying to say...

Don't think twice, it's alright.


vibaku said...

My brother had the album where their names are written in chalk on a brick wall behind them, and I played that album a bazillion times.
The song about the young woman who dresses in a man's uniform to join her beloved (I guess it would have been the Civil War?) used to slay me.
Very sad news today...

mike said...

I have a bit of an ear for music, and it's interesting that just out of the blue, spontaneously, after I had learned to strum chords on a guitar, I played and sung, "If I Had a Hammer," a fun song to sing on a guitar. I guess my favorite of theirs.

Amy said...

I love their music. I offer my prayers and condolences to the family.