Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mary Travers: Requiescant in pace

Today has been a brutal one in celebrity deaths.

First Henry Gibson, the actor and fractured poet of Laugh-In, and now we learn of Mary Travers' passing at 72. Leukemia, it was.

THROUGHOUT the 1960s, Peter, Paul and Mary were responsible for some of the sweetest music this side of the beatific vision. I pray she, at this moment, is adding her angelic voice to the heavenly chorus.

From The Associated Press:

Travers joined forces with Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey in the early 1960s.

The trio mingled their music with liberal politics, both onstage and off. Their version of “If I Had a Hammer” became an anthem for racial equality. Other hits included “Lemon Tree,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Puff (The Magic Dragon.)”

They were early champions of Bob Dylan and performed his “Blowin’ in the Wind” at the August 1963 March on Washington.

And they were vehement in their opposition to the Vietnam War, managing to stay true to their liberal beliefs while creating music that resonated in the American mainstream.

The group collected five Grammy Awards for their three-part harmony on enduring songs like “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Puff (The Magic Dragon)” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

At one point in 1963, three of their albums were in the top six Billboard best-selling LPs as they became the biggest stars of the folk revival movement.

It was heady stuff for a trio that had formed in the early 1960s in Greenwich Village, running through simple tunes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”


In a 1966 New York Times interview, Travers said the three worked well together because they respected one another. “There has to be a certain amount of love just in order for you to survive together,” she said. “I think a lot of groups have gone down the tubes because they were not able to relate to one another.”

With the advent of the Beatles and Dylan’s switch to electric guitar, the folk boom disappeared. Travers expressed disdain for folk-rock, telling the Chicago Daily News in 1966 that “it’s so badly written. ... When the fad changed from folk to rock, they didn’t take along any good writers.”

But the trio continued their success, scoring with the tongue-in-cheek single “I Dig Rock and Roll Music,” a gentle parody of the Mamas and the Papas, in 1967 and the John Denver-penned “Leaving on a Jet Plane” two years later.

They also continued as boosters for young songwriters, recording numbers written by then-little-known Gordon Lightfoot and Laura Nyro.

In 1969, the group earned their final Grammy for “Peter, Paul and Mommy,” which won for best children’s album. They disbanded in 1971, launching solo careers — Travers released five albums — that never achieved the heights of their collaborations.


b.f. said...

In tribute to Mary, thought I'd post the following lyrics to the public domain "Woman of Experience" biographical folk song I wrote about her during the 1980s:

"Women of Experience"

She's a woman of experience
She's a woman who is strong
She's a woman of intelligence
And she likes to sing folk songs.

She was born in Old Kentucky
And raised in Bohemia
Her childhood was so lonely
But she found some joy in nature
Her parents taught her well
To always think for herself
And resist the Establishment
And that's why she sang folk. (chorus)

Around her was a crowd of rebels
Writers with words intense
Artists who hoped to change the world
And outfox the government
She rebelled against dumb authority
And refused to ape TV clones
Alienated and abandoned
She sang folk songs at home. (chorus)

She wandered in Washington Square
And sang along in the park
She read her quota of books
And sat in the coffeshops
She sang with a couple of men
And belted out her deep feelings
And fought for a better world
And they called her the "new folk queen." (chorus)

She's been through her family
And she's got some new lessons to share
And she's collected a lot of wisdom
And it's still fun to touch her hair
And she'll give you a passionate hug
And her spirit is still untamed
And she brings some love to the world
And sings folk songs in the middle of rain. (chorus)

Anonymous said...

"With out his life-long friend, poor Puff could not be brave, So Puff. the mighty drgon, sadly slipped into his cave."

But also : "I've got a hammer, and I've got a bell, and a song to sing all over this land: It's the hammer of Justice, it's the bell of Freedom, it's a song about love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land.

And "If you'll take my hand, my son, all will be well when day is done..."

Grant us all to live and die so well.

To quote Holly Near "I'll keep singing the songs you were singing as if I were two..."