Peter Yarrow and Me: Left and Right

Category: Weekly Columns

Peter Paul & Mary - Folk Music

Peter Yarrow is one-third of the famous folk trio, Peter Paul & Mary. I’ve been a fan since the sixties when I attended a concert of theirs at The Hollywood Bowl. That concert was my first date ever. I was a young 15-year-old going out with a mature 16-year-old. I spent the entire concert working up the courage to put my arm around her shoulders as we sat, side by side, singing along to “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

Over the subsequent years, I became a “folkie,” as I loved the genre of folk music. I attended many other Peter Paul & Mary concerts, along with other lesser-known folk singers such as Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs. I didn’t attend a Bob Dylan concert until well past his folk era and, by then, his voice had deteriorated to a raspy mess. But, at that first Dylan concert sometime in the late seventies, I did get to see and hear Joni Mitchell, whose voice had stayed crystalline and beautiful.

Most musicians of my era and most musicians today have a political bent to the left. Perhaps, far-left would be more descriptive of their ideological leanings. In my teens, I followed the mass interest of my peers and idols and also chanted anti-war (Vietnam) slogans and sang anti-war protest songs. I didn’t attend any of the infamous rallies and protests since I truly didn’t understand the issues and didn’t care enough. It was far easier to get high occasionally and attend a concert now and then that might have been peppered with political rants from the performers.

Peter Yarrow

I didn’t give it much thought. Then, I grew up. I entered show business where left-leaning politics was the norm. I started reading and listening to those on the other side and gradually moved more towards the middle and ultimately switched sides altogether with a moderate conservative belief system that is largely open-minded when it comes to our personal lives and pretty right-leaning when it comes to macro issues such as terrorism, finance, health-care, and defense.

Many of my friends and most of my showbiz colleagues and public figures (in entertainment) stayed the course with their liberal ideology. I often wondered and wonder if any of them have ever really looked at the other side or do they get all their news from The New York Times, MSNBC, and our colleges and universities where diversity only applies to race, not political thought and dialogue.

Enter Peter Yarrow, now 75, performing at The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, Utah April 18 and 19, 2014. Mary Travers had died. I don’t know where or what Paul is doing. However, Peter is still a self-declared “Social Activist” and still tours as a solo performer, doing many of the songs made famous during his Peter Paul & Mary years, and many songs he had written himself, most famously his children’s song, “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

I expected to be annoyed by much of what I expected would be his political talks between and during songs. And, I was annoyed when he went on an anti-fracking and global warming diatribe. But, his palpable warmth and other story telling from over a half-century of being in the public eye touched me.

He told a totally sweet and loving story of performing in the JFK White House in 1962. There was no political overtone to that story, just a fond memory of times past. He also told about his foundation,, when he sang the song “Don’t Laugh At Me.” This foundation has a very fundamental belief at its core – that all human beings deserve to be treated with respect. It sort of is an anti-bullying campaign, but is bigger than that and has been around longer than the current trendiness of anti-bullying sentiment.

I found myself torn. His core values were at great odds with mine including his stance on the Middle East with his belief that we should all just get along and that the Palestinians want peace as much as the Israeli’s. It’s hard to understand this sort of equal belief when one side wants to obliterate the other and deny their right to exist. So, even though he was born a Jew and considers himself a (secular) Jew, his liberal beliefs color his view on this difficult issue.

Peter Paul & Mary

Peter sat outside the auditorium before, during intermission, and after both his shows to meet and greet his fans. He signed books, took photos, and briefly engaged with anyone who chose to wait in line to see him. I made that choice both evenings.

On the first evening, I simply told him I was a life-long fan and invited him to come to #DadChat, suggesting that the topic we could discuss would be how to encourage our children to care about social issues. He expressed interest and asked me to check out his website.

The second evening, I sought to get a photo with him and found myself admitting to him that even though we were pretty much on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I found his basic beliefs in the good of human-beings, treating each other with respect, and his love of children to be infectious. And, to this extent, we were exactly on the same page.

Peter Paul & Mary - B&W

I went the second night to see his show again because I so thoroughly enjoyed the intimate first evening where, in so many ways, he performed and engaged with his audience much the way he did early in his career.

Ultimately, I was so gratified to find unity between us when I see so much disunity among Americans on opposite sides of the issues. We met in the middle, where we all live and breath.

I hope he comes to #DadChat.