Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary takes her place on the Great Mandala

The influence of folk music was very high for those of us who grew up in the Sixties before and shortly after the British invasion. There was a time when Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Buffy Saint-Marie and Judy Collins reigned supreme on the musical charts and in our hearts. The time of the Weavers was waning and the protest movement of the Viet Nam era had yet to take foot, so we listened to the Kingston Trio who told us about the "M.T.A." and heard from others who preached about peace in a perfect world. Dylan's music was important and ground shaking, but his voice left a lot to be desired. One group above all others made his music and other folk music accessible to the common people. It was Peter Yarrow, Noel Stookey and Mary Travers, better known as Peter Paul and Mary. I had the distinction of being informed of Peter Paul and Mary much earlier than most of my peers. You see, my mother and uncle owned a record store that sold their records. Moreover, they were in the concert promotion game, paying for recording artists to appear in venues in New Orleans (and elsewhere) and selling tickets to the public. Some of the biggest names of American recording artists were brought to New Orleans by S&S Productions, named after the partners of Smith (my uncle) and Smason (my parents). My sister and I always had front row, direct center seats and we watched in glee as artists like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Julius Wechter and the Baja Marimba Band, Simon and Garfunkel, the Supremes, Glen Campbell, Maurice Chevalier, The Hootenary featuring the Geezenslaw Brothers, Dionne Warwick, Nancy Wilson, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Rivers, Donovan, Sly and the Family Stone, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, The Vanilla Fudge, O. C. Smith and many others performed for our company. But the very first act S&S Productions brought down was Peter, Paul and Mary. The time was 1963 and I recall the evening as having been one that kept me thoroughly entertained. Not bad for a nine year old, I guess. At the end of the night all of the three performers signed concert posters to our family. Those and my treasured posters from Simon and Garfunkel were lost in the flooding from Hurricane Katrina, but the memory of their kindness and talented performances still lingers. I recall this because I learned this morning of the passing of Mary Travers from leukemia at age 77. A statuesque blonde who was as smart as she was pretty, Travers broke ground for women in many ways. She was an equal with Yarrow and Stookey and, in my opinion, her voice helped meld the other two male singers into a harmonic entity that would have been lacking significant soul had she not been present. The group was formed in 1961 and generated success with recordings of "Blowin' in the Wind," "If I Had a Hammer," "Lemon Tree" and their chart-topper "Puff, the Magic Dragon." Some of my classmates in sixth grade will recall how I brought tears to the audience's eyes at Robert Mills Lusher Elementary School when I sang my version of "Puff." When Puff failed to return to little Jackie Paper, well, it was just too much for me! I'm getting a little amongst yourselves....
Peter Paul and Mary broke up in 1970, the same year the Beatles, the group that took away much of their thunder and forever changed the American musical landscape, also broke up.
In any event I wish I had been able to hear Travers' beautiful and strong voice once again in person before she passed away yesterday. I had heard her perform in recent years and marveled at how crisp and clear her voice remained since her golden years. I leave with the lyric to a Peter Paul and Mary tune that describes the circle of life and appropriate as Travers leaves this world to journey to the next:
Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you've only wasted your life.
(© Peter Yarrow)

No comments: