I was a college kid on a cold
Connecticut night in 1964 when I first heard Mary’s angelic alto. On that night
in New Haven and on so many nights over the next five decades, in so many
places all over the world, Peter, Paul, and Mary’s music asked more of us than
to simply sing along. “The hammer of justice” and “the bell of freedom”! These
are more than just lyrics; they were then, and they remain, a call to
conscience, and as Peter especially has always reminded me, when something pulls
at your conscience, you need to act.
As Peter, Paul and Mary journeyed from
coffee houses and campuses to the Billboard Top 40, there could be no doubt
that we were all living in turbulent times. But in their harmonies was a magic
and message more powerful than a decade of discord and exhilaration.
That is why, after all these years, we
return to the music. That is why when we turn the pages of this incredible
book, we are questioned, liberated, and challenged once again.
I know my experience with Peter, Paul
and Mary is one that I shared with so
many in those years of challenge and
transformation. Their music became an anchor: “Blowin’ in the Wind” as the war
in Vietnam escalated. “Leavin’ on a jet Plane” as I left to join the war. “Puff
the Magic Dragon” as I patrolled the Mekong Delta. Their songs became the
soundtrack of my life and of a generation.
They changed the cultural fabric of
this nation forever. Peter, Paul and Mary brought folk music from the shadows
of the blacklist McCarthy era to the living rooms and radio stations of every
town in America. They gave the world its first listen to young songwriting
talents from Bob Dylan to John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot to Laura Nyro.
© Jan Dalman
And though their music might stop and
the band would break up for years, they never stopped marching. They marched
for peace, for racial justice, for workers rights. They marched against
gun violence, homelessness and world hunger. They marched for clean air and
clean water, against apartheid and nuclear proliferation.
Through both their songs and their
struggle, they helped propel our nation on its greatest journey, on the march
towards greater equality. With their passion and persistence, Peter, Paul and
Mary helped widen the circle of our democracy.
It was at Dr. King’s March on
Washington, that Peter, Paul and Mary first
performed “Blowin’ in the Wind.” On
that day and for decades thereafter, they made it clear that it was up to all
of us to reach for the answer by reaching out to one another and to the world.
Their message was not defined by protest but by taking responsibility—taking
the risks that peace, the most powerful answer of all, always requires.
After the 1960s, those risks left many
of us with wounds and battle scars, physical and spiritual, real and
metaphorical. We saw too many of our heroes and friends—our flowers—gone to
graveyards far too soon. In the years to come, their music helped us to heal.
It was in 1971, at one of the many
marches in Washington that Peter, Paul and Mary helped to lead, when I first
met Mary. She once told me she was always guided by advice she got from her
mother: “Be careful of compromise,” she said. “There’s a very thin line between
compromise and accomplice.” She wasn’t just speaking about music or even
politics. It was a worldview, a philosophy of life—and it is within these pages
and in the spirit that Peter and Noel (Paul) continue to share with audiences
around the world, Mary’s spirit endures.
But this book is not a tribute to any
“time that was,” or even to three incredible people who changed music and our
lives forever. Instead, it is a testament to what they achieved with their
audience, both as musicians and as individuals, as artists and as activists, as
Americans and as citizens of the world.
It is also a testament to what’s left
undone. The questions that Peter, Paul
and Mary posed more than fifty years ago
at the March on Washington—how many roads, how many years will it take?—these
are still our questions and we still have a responsibility to answer.
© Bernard Cole Archive
That is why the power of Peter, Paul
and Mary’s music and their work in the world is enduring. That is why it
remains an inspiration for the work to come, for our work together, and for all
we hope to leave behind.
One of my favorite Peter, Paul and
Mary songs has always been “Sweet Survivor.” I was moved when Mary sang it for
me on my 50th Birthday, and then when Peter sang it for me on a cold bus in
Iowa in 2003. Its words still speak to the future, not the past:
“Carry on my sweet survivor, carry on my lonely
Don’t give up on the dream, and don’t let it end.
Carry on my sweet survivor, you’ve carried it so
So may it come again, carry on, carry on, carry on.”
And so as we read this book—and remember the music—we do it with
much more than nostalgia: we do it because Peter, Paul and Mary remind us still
to carry on.
John F. Kerry
US Secretary of State
© Sylvia Plachy
is on sale November 4, 2014
978-1-936140-32-9 HC $29.95