PETER YARROW: HE STILL HAS THE DREAM
By Robert J. Nebel
“Expect music, peace and love to come together at our show in Atlanta,” said Peter Yarrow, one of the founding members of the folk music trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, who will perform at Chastain Park Amphitheater on Friday. Peter Yarrow, (Noel) Paul Stookey and Mary Travers will perform their classic hits “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”, in addition to a host of material culled from their recent albums that deal with the issues of the day.
At Peter, Paul and Mary shows, it is not unusual to see four generations of concertgoers bond together to experience a stripped-down sound inspired by folk legends Woody Guthrie (“This Land is Your Land”), Bob Dylan and The Weavers, a 1950’s folk group known for the outspoken activism, politics and music.
The trio represent a tapestry of Americana rooted in grassroots activism, tinged with an optimistic spirit. It is that very spirit which has kept this group together for the better part of the last forty years who continually move audiences with their own brand of musical social commentary.
While so many of today’s pop concerts sport elaborate light shows, dancers and music videos, Peter, Paul and Mary are two men armed with their voices and guitars, one powerful female voice and a bass player who is the glue that bonds these elements together. Their words and passion speak louder than most of those competing pop concerts. While Friday’s Chastain show is sure to please, Yarrow has one minor worry about the performance. “Let’s hope it doesn’t rain,” he quipped.
The weather is just a blip on Yarrow’s radar screen these days. It is the state of the world that consumes this musician/lyricist/activist. Whether it is the proliferation of nuclear weaponry and power, the war on terrorism, or the Middle East conflict, Yarrow offers a deep intellectual discourse, which he infuses into his daily life, music and philanthropic work.
Peter Yarrow’s astute awareness of world events is drawn from his extensive activist resume, which includes his participation in 1963’s March on Washington, countless anti-war and nuclear demonstrations, to recent events such as, a fundraiser for Kosovar refugees and an appearance at Matthew Shephard’s funeral, the gay Wyoming student who was murdered in 1998.
Yarrow says that the common thread that runs through all of his activism is fighting for fairness. This tradition continues with his latest crusade - a project dubbed, “Don’t Laugh At Me”. “It is a curricula that helps schools deal with bullies,” Yarrow said. “Every kid who perpetrated the horrific acts at Columbine, Paducah, Springfield and Santee was bullied. Those who were bullied, ultimately become bullies themselves.” Yarrow hopes that this project will help prevent future violence in America’s schools, camps, playgrounds, and homes. His tireless work in the project can be found on the “Don’t Laugh at Me” website (http://www.dontlaugh.org) which describes itself through site literature and a music introduction video produced by Yarrow. The site also includes extensive information on the organization’s workshops. “We hope to make all schools a ridicule-free zone,” Yarrow said. “Our aim with ‘Don’t Laugh at Me’ is to galvanize spirits through music to enhance social, emotional and character education”.
When Peter Yarrow was growing up in the 1940’s New York, most kids were into stickball, the Brooklyn Dodgers and Coney Island. The young Peter Yarrow found inspiration in folk hero Woody Guthrie, who impacted his world, more than what went on at Ebbets Field. The influence of folk music led Yarrow to attend the High School of Music and Art, followed by an education at Cornell University where he drew upon his talents as a vocalist and acoustic guitar player.
Upon graduating from the university, Yarrow found himself in the conservative 1950’s, which felt alien to him. Yarrow, alongside many artists, writers and musicians were underground in those post-war years feeling the dawning of a new age of social consciousness. Peter, Paul and Mary were founded on those principles and the rest, as they say is “history”.
Today, Yarrow feels that we may have come full circle. “There has been a diminution in social awareness,” Yarrow said. “I can remember in the sixties when temples and synagogues were involved with homelessness, the peace movement and civil rights. Now it seems that they are concentrated on continuity, existence and pride.”
Yarrow’s rather liberal feelings on politics and Judaism are based in his involvement in the Tikkun community within the Jewish world. It is a community Yarrow feels is committed to “doing your part” by making social equality a reality. “The idea of Tikkun Olam is the centerpiece of being Jewish to me,” Yarrow explained. “One of the reasons we (Peter, Paul and Mary) are still together is because we are the Tikkun Olam trio. Each of us does our part to create harmony in the group.” His dedication to this progressive school of thought was recognized by the Miami Jewish Federation, which awarded him the Tikkun Olam award in 1995.
While Yarrow acknowledges his words may provoke controversy, he remains steadfast in his Tikkun values, which, he says should extend beyond the Jewish world community. “If we do not stay committed to caring beyond our borders, we lose our souls,” Yarrow emphatically stated. “Isolating your interests incites resentment and jealousy, which is dangerous to Jews. It invites anti-Semitism that we have endured through the years.”
Yarrow’s relationship with Atlanta goes back to the sixties when he was involved in the civil rights struggle. “I was in Atlanta when Sam Massell was mayor,” Yarrow recalled. “I have a lot of history there when the city was the eye of the hurricane of social change in the 1960’s.” Today, Yarrow is impressed with the social progress that Atlanta has achieved. “If there ever was a place demonstrated in the United States for change and growth for tolerance and understanding when it comes to race, it is Atlanta,” Yarrow said. In keeping up with his thoughts on politics, Yarrow makes it clear which candidate he supports throughout the country. In Georgia, Yarrow is a huge Max Cleland supporter. “I simply love Senator Cleland and I always look forward to seeing him at our shows,” said Yarrow.
As he remains an optimist in his quest for social equality, Yarrow is disappointed in the lack of civility in today’s society. “Look at today’s popular culture such as ‘The Weakest Link’, ‘Survivor’, and ‘Jerry Springer’,” said Yarrow. “There is a general lack of respect for one another and that is what I believe has led to this country’s political apathy.”
While so many of the performers from Yarrow’s era have either quieted down or sold out to major corporations, he remains committed to fighting for equality through music. At Friday’s Chastain show, it is that fight we you will hear.
(c)2002, Robert J. Nebel