40 Years with Peter, Paul & Mary
Jim Goldurs–What do you recall about the scene back in Greenwich Village when you guys first got together?
Pete Yarrow–Folk music was going through it's next renaissance, it would have gone through a renaissance in the late 50's had the Weavers not been blacklisted. They were enormously popular, but there careers were destroyed by the blacklisters. The Weavers were well on their way to creating a folk renaissance, they were amazing, but the accusations and the punitive measures that were taken by virtue of closing ranks and destroying their careers, forbade that from occurring. By the early 60's, Peter, Paul and Mary were in Greenwich Village. In the air, there was a spirit of a new kind of caring, it was manifested in the burgeoning civil rights awareness, that turned into the Civil Rights Movement. And everywhere you went, there was a sense of Greenwich Village, that something new was happening, a changing tone of the world. And when we started singing our songs together, (we met in Greenwich Village), there was a great resonance - not only were we singing as a group, we were living it.
Mary grew up in that tradition of social activism - so did I - we were "Seeger's raiders". We were really the inheritors of that. There was Judy Collins, and Odetta, it was really an amazing time, and filled with love and hope and delight and exploration. But is wasn't about money and wasn't about success.
JG–The country was folk crazy back in the early 60's. We had Hootenanny, The Kingston Trio, Chad Mitchell, then in 1963 and 1964, things changed. We had the "British invasion" of music. Peter, Paul and Mary survived, why do you think that was?
PY–We had been the number one artists in terms of record sales for a time, we had a substantial audience. Other people survived: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins. We had a second wave of great popularity in the late 60's with "Leavin' On A Jet Plane", "Day is Done", "I Dig Rock and Roll Music". The antiwar movement became part of what folk music was about.
Folk music didn't really get obscured until the 1970s, at which point it became very much of a sidebar to mainstream music. However, it has asserted itself very powerfully with the coming of the Shawn Colvins, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, people like David Wilcox, Cheryl Wheeler; they are amazing writers. There is a sense of renaissance about us now. Folk music will come and go in the sense of it being on the pop charts, but it's place in the American cosmos of our culture is secure.
JG–The artists (including yourselves) you mentioned early on survived, because not only did they sing the music, but lived it as well. Alot of groups did not do that.
PY–Well that's alot of why Peter, Paul, and Mary have continued, not just to be popular and have an audience - we're grateful for that - but very excited about being together, and loving each other, loving what we do, and continuing on this very important trajectory.
JG–How has the folk music "business" changed over the years?
PY–The number of records sold for a successful record now is one hundred times what is was in the 1960s-and that's good in the sense that it means the music is more broadly proliferated, but it's also bad in that music has become such a big business. That is really a source of great sadness because, the focus in the record business was on artist's careers, rather than making money and hits, and it's shifted. What you can't stop is the continued insistence of the continuity of folk music that exists in peoples lives- whether it's in their schools or homes, their churches, their synagogues, their summer camps - that music is part of the American way of life, that has really evolved a grand tradition. And not just a musical tradition, but a tradition that speaks to hopes and dreams of people to recognize each other, to form a sense of respectful community, and when Peter, Paul and Mary sing the songs, and we do to four generations of people as we will when we're in Cleveland, we EXPECT to see four generations there.
We expect that parents will be holding the hands of children, grandparents will be holding the hands of grandchildren singing, "Blowin' In the Wind", "If I Had A Hammer", or "Puff the Magic Dragon", with tears in their eyes. For us, remembering that is not nostalgic, it's continuity.
And of course the new songs which we do, which of course continue to reinvigorate us, have a sense of connection to that history. And that's the strength of folk music, that it does respect its own history. It's not just fashion or fad, it's not the new kid on the block in terms of what you're going to wear, or what you're going to look like, it's substance that blends and affects the generations mutually.
JG–And your two most recent releases, "Around the Campfire" and "Songs of Conscience and Concern", tend to eliminate any generational gaps.
PY–I think the intention with "Around the Campfire", which is a compilation of twenty-five songs (for which we've recorded four new ones) - these are camp songs! At this point in our careers, what's important for us to say, and what do we want to leave? What is the legacy? Not that we're leaving the stage yet, how are we summing up where we are, and what we've done. These two releases tend to answer that. "Songs of Conscience and Concern", another retrospective album is not for everyone, it's an album for people that have a certain connection to that human sensitivity that runs through folk music. It's kind of a very personal statement for us, it's one we said, "we don't care if sells a lot of records for us, we wanted to make sure that someone who wanted to have that kind of an album wouldn't have to rummage through twenty or so albums to look for the songs that have the textural feel to them."
JG–Are you afraid that any of these songs might lose the impact they're have had on previous generations?
PY–No, I don't fear that's the case. Some do become time bound of a particular era, but I've found that songs that really resonate, sustain, and can be reinterpreted. The choices now may be different. A choice for Julia Butterfly Hill was there. Do I let "Luna", the tree I lived in for two years, be clear cut with tens of thousands of other thousand or fifteen hundred year old trees? , or do I make a stand? One person. She got up in the tree, and she sat there. We all have a role to play, however small, it can be in reference to one human being at a time. It is said in Jewish tradition, if you save one life, it is as if you've saved the entire world. Just deal with one human being at a time. Our sense of community has been destroyed by what we see on the tube, the edge of cruelty and ridicule at peoples expense that we see and hear. We have a task before us that has to do with individuals approaching individuals, it is that task that is most relevant to Peter, Paul, and Mary music.