Thursday, October 9, 2014

Imani and I

I cannot express how excited and proud I feel to be writing this blog. And of course, it’s all because of a small African girl who strived to touch the moon—and succeeded. Little Imani: the girl with the big dreams.

It’s such an interesting thing when you set out to write a story, and it takes on a life of its own. Imani started off male, Elijah first then Ayubu. All either boy did was jump and jump and jump and succeed. Not much of a story arc, right? But I knew there was something more to this story. As I dug deeper and fine-tuned the story, the voice that called resoundingly from the page was not a boy’s, but was that of a girl, a small girl, with a big story to share. I think this is something I am most proud of regarding how Imani came to be. Hearing her voice and realizing how her story is one so many can relate to, a story of setting “impossible” goals and working hard to reach them in the face of opposition. Most of us have been in situations like that, when something seemed insurmountable, but we persevered anyway.

Friday, October 3, 2014

John F. Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, Pens the Intro to "Peter, Paul and Mary: Fifty Years in Music and Life"

 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
©Barry Feinstein
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
© Bernard Cole Archive
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.

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 friend
Don’t give up on the dream, and don’t let it end.
Carry on my sweet survivor, you’ve carried it so long.
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
February 2014
© Sylvia Plachy

 is on sale November 4, 2014
978-1-936140-32-9 HC $29.95