My parents, one Christmas, gave me an album by Peter, Paul and Mary. Ignoring the question of how Mom and Dad knew who these people were, I didn’t like Peter, Paul and Mary.
Or so I thought.
By the following year, I wanted a guitar. And I guess I learned informally, because I didn’t take lessons, and I didn’t know anyone who knew guitar. I had found Earl Robinson’s Folk Guitar in Ten Sessions, which was more about accompanying singing than fancy fingering.
So: listening to Yarrow, Stookey, and Travers pulled me into a web of songs. Some were traditional, some were contemporary, but for me they related in a way that other kinds of music hadn’t. Related in the sense of having a connection, and related in the sense of giving an account of things outside.
I started learning about other kinds of music, about the “folk process” through which tradition song gets transformed, about social relevance. And I learned that making music was not something only professionals did, or only other people: making music was an invitation.
I don’t know if Mary played an instrument. Her voice helped carry the heart of a song: the braid of sounds and story. Chan fhiach cuirm gun a còmhradh — it’s no feast if there’s no talk — and there’s not much of a song if there’s no connection.
In an interview, Mary said, “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.” She died yesterday, three years short of that, but the connections remain.