Saturday, September 19, 2009

MARY TRAVERS (November 9, 1936 – September 16, 2009)

Vibrant performers in their prime, welcome friends as they aged into an act that parents, children and grandparents could all enjoy, Peter Paul & Mary managed to stay together (sans the break-up years 1971-76) for a lifetime. Despite her weight problems in the 90's and health issues over the past few years, Mary Travers was able to keep to the touring commitments and not disappoint all those worldwide fans.

She'd had a bone marrow transplant to deal with the leukemia diagnosed in 2005, and was still undergoing chemotherapy, but was performing until just a few months ago. On her website, Peter Yarrow began his eulogy: "In her final months, Mary handled her declining health in the bravest, most generous way imaginable. She never complained. She avoided expressing her emotional and physical distress, trying not to burden those of us who loved her, especially her wonderfully caring and attentive husband, Ethan...."

And after mentioning aspects of her "vexing" personality (Mary, surprisingly enough, was the most political of the three, and known for her sharp wit), Noel Paul Stookey ended his statement with: "I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without Mary Travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared her spirit and her career."

Her passing naturally stirs nostalgia in those who remember when the trio was, along with the Kingston Trio, the most polished and commercials stars of the folk revival. Appealing to most everyone, the PP&M set list and albums included Christian songs, Jewish songs, delicate ballads, rousing sing-alongs and even novelty tunes. Plus there was a certain sad and charming kiddie song about a magic dragon that even hippies loved, convinced it was actually about pot.

Not quite the darlings of the critics, despite their brilliant harmonies and impeccable taste, one wag dismissed them as looking like "two rabbis and a hooker." The two rabbis (one Jewish, one Christian) were sometimes hard to tell apart, but there was no doubt about the hooker...Mary was an eye-catching hippie chick with her full-lipped smile and shimmering, long straight blond hair.

It was her voice that gave the trio its distinction, melding so beautifully with the two guys, and no doubt influencing future mixed folk groups such as "The Mamas and the Papas" and "Spanky and Our Gang."

Mary once admitted, "I'm not sure I want to be singing 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' when I'm 75, but I know I'll still be singing 'Blowin' in the Wind.'" PP&M's cover was the first time most people on the planet ever heard of a songwriter called Bob Dylan.

After a series of successful albums ("Moving" being the Illfolks favorite) the trio split at the turn of the 70's, and boldly offered three simultaneous solo albums (a pioneering idea later borrowed by KISS among others). All it proved, was that they all were pleasant on their own, and could even write or co-write some good songs...but the sum was greater than the individual parts.

The Peter Paul & Mary material is easy to find, but the solo works...most of them still exist only in the out of print vinyl editions. It's a bit odd that Mary's solo work didn't find a wider audience, since she did stand out when she had solo opportunities on a PP&M tune ("Tiny Sparrow" among many others). The Illfolks salute features a song from her first solo album, the Paul Simon classic "Song for the Asking."
Mary Travers, Song for the Asking

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Very sad news this week.