After almost 50 years of writing and singing songs about the ills of the world, Noel Paul Stookey – the tall one in the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary – is still at it. His latest, “In These Times,” written last year, could – and maybe should – be resonating up and down the shaky foundations of Wall Street.
“There’s a warning in the wind that comes wailing through the trees,
A depression in the shoreline left by the pounding seas,
There is a lesson in the drought that brings a country to its knees,
In these times…
“We are dancing with disaster when we live beyond our needs,
And pretend our hungry souls are not related to our greed…
Life’s a journey, but it’s not about the speed,
In these times…”
Not that the art of the socially-politically conscious tune is the same today as it was some 40 years ago, when Stookey and his partners burst on the folk scene in Greenwich Village – or when he sang for the historic 1963 “March on Washington” that included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“Things are so splintered now, people have so many choices,” he said on the eve of a performance at Wolf Trap Farm Park just outside of D.C. “Are there causes and passions to be felt now? Yes, but it’s all been subdivided so much we don’t really notice them the way we did in the ‘60s.”
Put another way, four decades ago folk – and by extension protest – music embraced broad topics under a single, big tent. Now, there are many tents focusing on individual issues, like homelessness, the environment, sexuality and more.
The concerns of folk music have disseminated to other genres, particularly pop or rock music. “How can you ignore someone like Bono?” says Stookey. “That’s possibly the most misunderstood thing about folk music – it didn’t die in the ‘60s. It went underground and seeded other genres for speaking about contemporary concerns.
Royalties from his most famous tune – “The Wedding Song,” written as a gift for Peter Yarrow on his marriage – help fund the “Music to Life” songwriting contest sponsored by a foundation Stookey started. “The concerns you hear in some of these songs are not new. World peace, ecology, problems in the Middle East. I’m telling you, folk music did not go away.”
By William Triplett in Washington.