Saturday, December 20, 2014

Give me a new song to sing

Mary Travers 1937 - 2009
Agnes and I just watched a retrospective of the music of Peter, Paul and Mary with a guest appearance by Pete Seeger; I ended up teary-eyed and we both agreed that somehow in the last years, we've lost something of . . . of whatever it was that energized us when we hummed along with Where Have all the Flowers Gone,  or sang exuberantly Because all Men are Brothers:

Let every voice be thunder, let every heart beat strong
Until all tyrants perish our work shall not be done
Let not our memories fail us the lost year shall be found
Let slavery's chains be broken the whole wide world around.

I suppose one could rationalize the choice of whatever road we branched off onto in any number of ways, possibly invoking post-modernism or post-Christian influences as causative. In any case, the short trip into the heady idealism of the 60s and 70s tonight left a bitter-sweet, nostalgic taste behind.

                Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, Judy Collins were some of the banner carriers for peace and justice at a time when the civil rights movement was growing, the Vietnam War was raging—too soon after the Korean War—and America was being forced to rethink itself. The songs pointed outward, a sharp contrast to the "all about me" drivel that characterizes so much pop and country music of the current age. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here for Justin Bieber's If I was your Boyfriend video.)

                I went to YouTube to look for some nostalgia, and mourned the 2009 death through leukemia of Mary Travers by playing a black and white video of a 1963 rendering of Pete Seeger's If I had a Hammer. Take a step back to this wonderful song so soulfully sung by clicking here.

                Oh, I know. Every generation since (and including, probably) Adam and Eve has assumed that the next generation is enthusiastically pumping itself toward hell on a handcart. That's not me, but sometimes I long for the talented poets and songwriters of this time to come out of their shells and give us some robust songs of protest. Something we all—young and old—can beat time to. Something that helps us express our anxieties in unison, build our hopes that justice and peace can bless our world . . . even so. Something tuneful, harmonious and honest.

                Heaven knows, we didn't put paid to war, injustice and poverty in our day, but maybe we kept it at bay for a time. I think every generation of artists has this obligation to tend to.

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