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Quotes of the day: Peter Yarrow

Published Saturday, May 30, 2015 @ 8:32 AM EDT
May 30 2015

Peter Yarrow (b. May 31, 1938) is an American singer who found fame with the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary. Yarrow co-wrote (with Leonard Lipton) one of the group's greatest hits, "Puff, the Magic Dragon". He is also a political activist and has lent his support to causes that range from opposition to the Vietnam War to the creation of Operation Respect, an organization that promotes tolerance and civility in schools. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


I can't help but react to the painful realities of the two-tiered society we live in, where the signs of poverty and inequity are everywhere. Almost twenty five percent of our children live at or below the poverty line. We expect the no-option life cycle of the poor to be interrupted by the weak social safety net and then wonder why building more jails doesn't solve the problems.

Most of my work for the past 25 years has been devoted to organizing demonstrations, benefits and campaigns, many of which have had the effect of bringing a policy debate to public focus or moving a political agenda forward. It's become a cliché to say 'think globally and act locally,' but it works.

People can overcome their differences, and when united, move toward a world of greater fairness and justice. As in folk music, each person has a unique role to play.

People may say 'What can I do? I'm only one person.' But we've proven that when we come together demonstrate, and speak our piece, there is no way the power structure can avoid being attentive.

Puff (The Magic Dragon) became metaphorical for a certain spirit because of its proximity to the era or idealism and hope in the '60s. If it had been written in a time of cynicism and selfishness such as this one, perhaps 'Puff' might not have resonated in the same way, save for those who were bemoaning the loss of innocence of their own time.

Such honesty comes with a price, but when you get past the hurt and shock of realizing that you're faulted and frequently wrong, you also realize that you are really loved and respected for who you are, and you become a better person.

Such times of crisis have inevitably brought 'music of conscience' to the fore and I expect we will be hearing more and more of it in the immediate future. When people feel empowered to come together and raise their voices, also will mean raising their voices in song as well.

The ethic behind songs of conscience doesn't change, even though the issues are altered from generation to generation.

The songs we sing invite the participation of the listener, who is central to finding a way of creating the life of the song at that listening. It's the difference between poetry and didactic writing. One tells you, 'This is it,' and the other says, 'Let's find this together.'

The songs worked as a different kind of rhetoric, one that could reach the fence-sitters.

The Village in the early 1960s was a crucible of creativity. Involvement in music was a matter of joyous discovery, not business. We knew that folk music was having an enormous impact in the Village, but was a couple of years away from being embraced on a national scale.

We're part of a long train ride.

We've lived through a time in which people have felt they could forge their own future and make a better world. We may not have achieved our dreams in the time frame that we once believed was realistic, but the magnitude of what is yet to be achieved only confirms the importance of our commitment. Knowing this, we can't stop now.

When people sing together, community is created. Together we rejoice, we celebrate, we mourn and we comfort each other. Through music, we reach each others hearts and souls. Music allows us to find a connection.


(May 31 is also the birthday of Fred Allen, Norman Vincent Peale, and Walt Whitman.)

Categories: Peter Yarrow, Quotes of the day


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