Thursday, September 17, 2009

Where have all the flowers gone?

I was mildly saddened today to read of the death of Henry Gibson, who forty years ago  delivered whimsical little poems on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" while holding an absurdly big flower. I always liked him and his gentle, offbeat viewpoint.

An hour or two later I was saddened to a greater degree to learn of the death of Mary Travers. Peter, Paul and Mary were special, especially to me. They were my first concert, when I was nine or so; I overheard a student at a Cornell football game say he had an extra ticket, and in a move stunningly unlike the shy, self-conscious kid I was, interrupted him, bought his ticket, and went to the show alone. Some years later, I also saw Mary in concert as she attempted to launch a solo career, though she was overshadowed by her then-unknown lead-in act, Seals and Crofts. Also, Ithaca was the birthplace of Puff; if we were there, I could point out the house where the song was written.

Mostly, though, P, P and M were good, and they were brave: they marched in Selma and sang at Dr. King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial. They brought the civil rights and antiwar movements into people's living rooms. The men had beards, Mary had long straight hair that became the model for antiwar women and hippie chicks, and they weren't afraid to be earnest about things that mattered.

The world turned more cynical, to the point where people insisted, against all evidence, that Puff was a song about marijuana. Peter, Paul and Mary never became cynical.

I'm going running later, and I'm going to listen to If I Had a Hammer on my iPod, not because Mary Travers has passed, but because it's a song I listen to. A lot.

I still believe in it.

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