“Did the pipes play ‘The Flowers of the Forest’?” — Eric Bogle

September 17, 2009

PETER, MARY, and PAUL

PETER, MARY, and PAUL

Behind the stage at the Walpack Inn was a white mobile home, and sitting at the kitchen table, smoking, was a legend — to everyone but herself. I had taken Mary Travers at her word. She had said, “If you come to the concert, come around afterward and see us.” So when the music was over we and the kids trooped around to where she had said she’d be. I wondered as I raised my hand to knock whether she had meant that invitation literally. I hesitated long enough for Paul Stookey to open the door on his way out. He didn’t ask who we were or what we wanted. He held the door open for us and cheerfully said, “Go on in.” And we went in and sat with Mary in the blue haze at the kitchen table as if we belonged there.

MARY TRAVERS

MARY TRAVERS

I had the good luck to talk to Mary in person and on the telephone about a half dozen times. She was an important singer — an important public personality — and she and her partners had a right to be proud of their achievements as musicians and as citizens. Mary may have been proud but, in my experience, she had no ego. Her ability to speak so eloquently to the problems of the most humble of people no doubt could be traced to the fact that she did not see herself as anyone’s better.

I heard someone recently commenting that Mary “can’t sing anymore” — a reference to the dark and husky voice that evolved from years of use and abuse. I have to wonder if someone making that observation ever understood what Mary was singing for. Her voice always had a natural melancholy — listen to her recording of “The Green Fields of France” —  and that quality became more pronounced with age. Maybe it was an unconscious expression of a growing realization that time was running out on dreams of social and political justice.

There has been a lot of high-blown rhetoric in response to the recent deaths of major national figures. Nothing could be less appropriate this time.

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3 Responses to ““Did the pipes play ‘The Flowers of the Forest’?” — Eric Bogle”

  1. Shifty Says:

    I remember that show. I used to love the way she ended her solo verse of “Goodnight, Irene” in a basso profundo “and stay by the fireside bright.”

  2. cj Says:

    The song is called No Man’s Land

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