‘These songs are . . . meaningful now’
For folkie Yarrow, past is prologue
They just don’t make music like they used to, says Peter Yarrow. Or at least most of them don’t.
“Lady Gaga is sensational,” said the folk music luminary, who will perform at the Flying Monkey Performance Center in Plymouth on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. “Her appearances and what she’s sharing and what she cares about, she’s an artist like Connie Smith. . . . She’s terrific.”
While it would be hard to find two artists more stylistically at odds than the envelope-pushing Gaga and the ever-mellow Yarrow, the ’60s chart topper admires the young pop idol’s desire to change the world through music. It’s what he’s still trying to do after 50 years in the business. And it’s what makes him relevant in an age of profit-driven, often vapid music.
“To a large degree, the music of Peter, Paul and Mary is the legacy that I’m touring, so it’s not terribly different from what it used to be,” Yarrow said in a telephone interview from Wisconsin, where he was waiting out the hurricane after performing at a couple of political events in the battleground state. “You’ll hear the same kinds of messages and the same songs . . . but these songs are not ‘Oh, here’s an archaic song and isn’t it interesting that the world was once like that.’ These songs are very vibrant and meaningful now.”
But now, as always,
Yarrow believes that social activism involves more than
delivering some compelling lyrics by way of a catchy tune.
At age 73, Yarrow spends much of his time on a program he founded called Operation Respect. Along with bringing folk music to a new generation, the organization provides a framework and resources for educators to build strong, caring school communities free of bullying and teasing. Adopted in countries all over the world, the program has recently been translated into Arabic and Hebrew and put to use in several Middle Eastern nations.
Yarrow believes it has the power to dramatically alter world relations by attacking hatred at its root. He’s recently visited schools in both Israel and the Palestinian territory, hoping to plant a small seed of tolerance.
“Operation Respect takes a very long view of problems,” said Yarrow, who has also published a series of children’s books and folk song compilations – including, of course “Puff the Magic Dragon” – to complement the curriculum. “The goal is to change the world by educating kids in such a way that we’re really focusing on creating young people with integrity. . . . We’ve gotten into these cultural habits of dealing with things as really only resolvable by brute force. We need to abandon this cycle of hatred and fear.”
While it’s not the only tool in his arsenal, music is certainly a powerful tool in changing minds, Yarrow said. His concerts are warm, chatty affairs, weaving treasured songs together with stories of the days when Peter, Paul and Mary were as big as Lady Gaga, and musings on the world today.
“It’s not just song after song. It’s very much a narrative,” Yarrow said. “It underscores the fact that this music is not just of the past, but we’re saying something that has vitality in the world right now.”
And if that music should put you in a nostalgic mood, well, Yarrow is just one of three retro sensations coming to the Flying Monkey this week. Tomorrow night at 7:30, ’70s-era superstars Jefferson Starship will heat up the stage with unforgettable hits like “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” “Sara” and “We Built this City.”
Then, on Nov. 8 at 7:30, celebrated folk singer Arlo Guthrie will take the stage, offering his distinct, homey blend of stories and songs.
For information and tickets for these and other upcoming concerts, call 536-2551 or visit flyingmonkeynh.com.