Friday, September 18, 2009

Farewell, Mary

I was very sad to read this morning of Mary Travers' death. I grew up singing Puff, the magic dragon at camp (um, that may have been the only thing I willfully retained from camp). One of the first CDs my husband and I bought and really "shared" was this, which we played full volume while driving around Montreal furnishing our first condo. I fell in love again with songs like 500 miles, If I had a hammer, This land is your land, Early mornin' rain, Follow me, and Don't laugh at me, and the brilliant songwriting of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Peter Yarrow (no relation, but one can hope, right? Oddly, he signs his name much like my father and I) and Noel (Paul) Stookey.

Over the years, every time I listen to the political songs, I think I really must somehow shape these songs into a class booktalk about the 60s and political and social activism. Wouldn't it make a great unit for even grade 6+?

You could incorporate books like the picture book, One by Kathryn Otoshi, Stealing home (set before the 60s but captures the breeding ground for ideas of the 60s), The Loud Silence of Francine Green, Canadian Meg Tilly's Porcupine, The Breadwinner, Three Wishes, and even Stargirl or Schooled, and you could talk about poetry as dissent, and look at the lyrics of PPM songs. I need to get going on that.

I would also include the recollections of my Facebook buddy Stephen Yarrow, who once had the privilege of meeting (and learning the guitar from) Noel Stookey in Australia (Stephen is no relation to me or Peter - are you confused yet? We Yarrows do stick together). Stephen met Noel on his solo Christian tour of Australia in the early 70s and somehow got to take him to and from his hotel. Stephen wrote me that "Being a child of the 60s wasn't all that wonderful at the time - not for me and most people I knew, anyway - so don't feel resentful for missing it. There was far more anger and fear than love and peace. The cold war was in full flight, everyone was scared of nuclear war, all the young men were being conscripted against their wishes to go and fight the Vietnam War and many never came home, and parents were still very controlling and ultra conservative. The music, fashions etc. of the 60s were very much a respite from all the negativity of the time, and the music was more wishful thinking for better days that actually being so wonderful. [...] That [being] said, it was an interesting time of change, particularly watching a new form of music grow from infancy (1950s), to maturity (1970s) and eventually stagnating to become a lifeless shadow of its former self (1990s)."

Incidentally, there is a great, great picture book version of both Puff (with Peter singing with his daughter on an accompanying CD) and Don't laugh at me. The illustrations in both are utterly brilliant, and in Puff, propose an alternate ending.

For now, I leave you with this:


  1. Oh, Alex. That was so awesome. I grew up with Puff as well. What a great tribute you've paid here. Also, how much happier would the grade sixes of Canda be if your were writing the English curriculum?

  2. hmm. that obviously should have been Canada. why oh why can't i edit my comments on blogger?

  3. destroy all cars by blake nelson should go on this list too...that kid RAGES against the automotive industry and capitalism in general.

    thank you for writing about her! i loved her too.