The first time I ever heard Peter Paul and Mary I was 15 and spending the summer at a writing program at Exeter Academy - the first year they ever let "girls" into the school at all. I remember loving Blowin' in the Wind, If I Had a Hammer and of course, Puff. I remember visiting another student's home in Concord where her older brother, already in college, told me that the three were just "popularizers of Bob Dylan songs" and scornfully complaining that I should be listening to Dylan not them. (I didn't find Bob Dylan until later - junior year, I guess.) I thought he was nuts To me, Peter Paul and Mary were an introduction to music that was about things I cared about: civil rights, war, peace and love -- from a more political perspective.
From then on, through high school, into college and "out into the world" Peter Paul and Mary held a special place in my life. We seemed to cross paths often. We played their music all the time, of course. My sister and I saw them at a summer concert in Pittsburgh (my long-suffering mom driving us, of course.) I remember watching them sing at the 1963 March on Washington, and later seeing them at Wolf Trap with a blind date. And, most profoundly, I remember seeing them quite literally, save lives in Grant Park at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. Hordes of demonstrators were coming over a bridge into the part of the park right outside the Hilton. There had been trouble, lots of trouble, for at least days and this would be another terrible confrontation. Then, from nowhere, Peter, Paul and Mary started to sing. The demonstrators slowly converged around their platform, diverted from certain misery. It was quite a thing.
Here's what else I remember. Mary Travers herself, who died today. She was a powerful model: not just her deep, resonant voice but also her powerful, sure presence, on stage and off. She was brave and funny and looked amazing. We all knocked ourselves out trying to have straight hair like hers: ironed it, slept with it wrapped around orange juice cans. She was a powerful presence.Of course, part of her power, and that of Peter and Paul was their commitment. Where they were needed, they came. Civil rights marches, peace marches, the McCarthy presidential campaign, even regional and local union struggles. It was a signal to the rest of us: if we can show up, so can you. And we did. As another friend wrote to me tonight: "I just saw the news story. Can't believe how much of our history was tied up with them."
Making my way out of my office, thinking about writing this, I started singing to myself: "Leavin' on a Jet Plane." But I couldnt finish. I was close to tears. It's happened so often this summer - icons of my life fading from view. Teddy Kennedy, Walter Cronkite, Robert McNamara, Don Hewitt, Ellie Greenwich, Patrick Swayze just yesterday, and now Mary. Each representing so many lives; so many memories.
I keep writing here because somehow I don't want to stop. This ought to do it, though. (The other guy is John Denver)