It is that time of year when winter turns to a season of hope. We hope for a beautiful spring as we welcome warm weather. Also, we hope that this year will be “the year” for our baseball team. But no matter what happens with the season, every team at least has a chance on opening day.
For anyone who played baseball growing up, there is one position where they would stick the kids who were not very skilled at the game. These were the kids who were hopeful enough to play the game. But the coaches did not have much hope in them. I know, because I was one of those kids.
I still love baseball. So it is worth celebrating those of us who grew up in right field.
Peter, Paul & Mary wrote a touching ode to playing right field “watching the dandelions grow.”
I’d dream of the day they’d hit one my way; They never did, but still I would pray, That I’d make a fantastic catch on the run, And not lose the ball in the sun; And then I’d awake from this long reverie, And pray that the ball never came out to me, Here in . . . Right field.
Below, Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers perform “Right Field” at their 25th Anniversary Concert. Check it out.
Leave your two cents in the comments. Photo of Ruth card via public domain.
On today’s date of February 19 in 1981, the United States government released a report claiming an El Salvador insurgency came from aggression by communists. The report prompted the U.S. government under new President Ronald Reagan to begin to address the perceived threat. The U.S. then assisted the government of El Salvador against rebels by sending money and advisers to the country.
Through the 1980s, the U.S. government spent more and more money on El Salvador. Still, violence and instability continued in El Salvador, with many accusations of torture, kidnapping, and assassination on both sides.
Although Peter, Paul & Mary are best-known for the songs they recorded in the 1960s, they still made some excellent music later in their career. One of their late-career highlights is “El Salvador,” which they recorded in 1982 soon after the U.S. report and the escalations in that country.
In the song “El Salvador,” written by “Paul” — i.e., Noel Paul Stookey, the trio helped bring attention to the continuing atrocities in that country and the involvement of the U.S. government in the mess. Stookey and the other singers were surprised to sometimes hear booing when they sang the song, which later appeared on Songs of Conscience and Concern (1999). Here, Peter, Paul & Mary perform “El Salvador” at their 25th Anniversary Concert in 1986 — without any booing.
At the end of the song, the trio asked a question:
They’ll continue training troops in the USA, And watch the nuns that got away, And teach the military bands to play South of the Border, And kill the people to set them free; Who put this price on their liberty? Don’t you think it’s time to leave El Salvador?
In 1992, the United Nations and Costa Rica President Oscar Arias helped negotiate a deal between the warring parties in El Salvador. Although a U.N. commission condemned the U.S.’s involvement in Salvadoran military atrocities, then U.S. President George H.W. Bush claimed that the peace was a result of the U.S.’s long fight against communism El Salvador.
But today even the U.S. Department of State website recognizes the problems: “During the 12-year civil war, human rights violations by both the government security forces and left-wing guerillas were rampant.”
Peter Paul & Mary signed their first recording contract on January 29, 1962. Thus began a recording career with Warner Brothers that would help bring folk music and Bod Dylan’s music to a broad audience.
That broader audience included me when I was a kid. We did not have Bob Dylan albums in my house when I was a kid, but we did have Peter Paul & Mary’s second album, Moving (1963), which included “Puff the Magic Dragon.” The trio and “Puff” eventually led me to Dylan and other folk singers. They even led me to John Denver with their cover of “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.”
Although today I only have a couple of Peter Paul & Mary albums, I have a huge collection of Dylan and other folk songs that they helped me discover. So, while some hear them and think of a group less authentic than some other folk singers because of their smooth harmonies and the way the group formed, I hear the joy in their music. And I appreciate the role they played in my music education.
“Puff the Magic Dragon”
The story of “Puff the Magic Dragon” began in 1958 when Leonard Lipton, who was a Cornell student, found inspiration in Ogden Nash’s “The Tale of Custard the Dragon.” Lipton used that inspiration to write his own poem about a dragon.
Lipton showed his poem to another Cornell student, Peter Yarrow, who added music and additional lyrics. Not much later, Manager Albert Grossman, looking to capitalize on the growing folk music trend, put together what he saw as a commercial pairing of Yarrow with Peter Stookey and Mary Travers.
Thus began Peter Paul & Mary. The new group recorded “Puff the Magic Dragon” in 1962, and it went on to rise to #2 on the Billboard charts.
Many decades on, the song’s themes about lost innocence resonate more strongly for those of us who grew up listening to the song. When I hear the song, I think not only about the lost innocence of Little Jackie Paper. I also think about my own childhood listening to the unusual dark children’s song. In the song, I sensed some frightening message about the world ahead where little boys do not live forever and dragons are left alone to disappear.
But in addition to the haunting elements, there was something comforting in the way the three voices blended together, revealing something else in the world. Perhaps there was a touch of the nearly half-century friendship between the three singers that continued until Mary Travers’s death in 2009.
And maybe some things do last forever. I do not know where I will be in another half century, but I do know that children still will be singing the college student’s poem about a dragon who frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Update: Dick Kniss, who played bass for Peter Paul & Mary for almost five decades, passed away in 2012 at the age of 74. He also co-wrote John Denver’s hit, “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” RIP.