Peter Yarrow

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In this exclusive interview, Yarrow candidly covers politics, socialism, education, bullying, a few secrets, media and the Power of Music!

Cable Muse encourages you to use the full multi-media experience by utilizing our safe links to related video footage of the interview and materials. We agree with Peter Yarrow’s advice and start with a song. The first clip is Don’t Laugh at Me’ and relevant to this remarkable interview.  

Peter Yarrow (Cable Muse Network)

Updated -October 22, 2009 – (Cable Muse Network) –On Sunday October 11th, Ben Cable had the honor of sitting down with Peter Yarrow prior to his one man concert in Tempe to promote Yarrow’s new book “Day is Done.”  Peter is best known as part of the Americana fabric known as the musical trio “Peter, Paul and Mary”. Peter, Paul and Mary are well known for folk songs including, "Puff the Magic Dragon," "If I Had a Hammer" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane." Touring a few weeks after Mary Travers passing on September 16, 2009, Yarrow candidly covers, President Obama, socialism, healthcare, education, media, bullying, a few secrets and the power of music.

Ben:It’s nice meeting you as well. In fact, we met before.

Peter:Jared Polis!

Ben: No.

Peter:You didn’t support Jared? Then why are we talking, I’m leaving. Jared is my favorite member of Congress and I was campaigning for him. He’s a new member of Congress from Boulder and he’s a great educator. He was the youngest school board member. He’s a pride and joy of the new Congress.

Ben:You’re going to be visiting Colorado very shortly on your book tour.


I thought we were in… I thought we were tomorrow. Tomorrow, tomorrow I love you tomorrow I’m only a day early.

Ben:In fact, it is a day early [for] Colorado. You’ve been on a whirl-wind tour. You were in California today, in Colorado tomorrow…

Peter:Yeah, California today, Colorado tomorrow, I was in Portland three days ago, I was in New York the day before. That’s not unusual.

Ben:I needed to print out your three pages of your itinerary. [To keep it straight]... I mean Washington D.C., all the way to Dallas, Milwaukee, Madison, St. Louis, Bridgewater then your back East.

Peter:Well, something important has happened that you and the world of books, in the world of music, in the world of culture I think should note. There hasn’t been an article about it specifically, but I think what’s happening is that music that was so popular in the 1960’s, music, folk music and music that’s like folk music and that’s somewhat derived from it. That hasn’t had a place of real focus in the media for a long time. It isn’t played in the radio unless you go to that folk station. You know, in the early 60’s it dominated the musical airwaves. It was so important a part of the movements, the civil rights movement and the peace movement, and the women’s movement, and the environmental movement.

Peter Yarrow with Cable Muse Network at Changing Hands

But now, it’s kind of, music is all big bucks. It’s partially for that reason, not because you can download music and reproduce it digitally but because the people running it are not terribly engaged in the idea of music as a way for the culture to affirm itself and to move forward with it’s hopes and dreams. Now with the conjunction of a book and a CD, all of the sudden, we sold close to 900,000 copies of “Puff”. The people said, “Wow!” Because in this world, if you sell a million anything… I don’t care if you’re, you know, a member of Congress, or if you’re a professor in college, or even a folk singer, you’ll become a rock star.

Here I am at the age of 71 and because we’ve sold almost a million of something, it could be mouse traps. When you realize that, and you’re in my position, you realize that you can create something that emerges from that, you take advantage of that occurrence and say, “well, we’re going to create other books.” Now there are three books and there will be a fourth of collections of twelve songs a piece. First one, favorite folk songs, sleepy time songs for the little ones and now songs to sing together and now there’s another book all on it’s own of the song days.

The important thing to realize here, this is the big “secret”; these songs are all available for downloading for free; to anybody who’s a teacher, or a camp counselor, an educator, an administrator, a person who is working with kids who are troubled or have special needs or have special gifts. Go to Operation, download them for free, you don’t have to buy anything and at this point, it’s got over 40 songs. When people sing these songs, guess what happens?

The same thing has happened in the March on Washington in 1963, one would say, where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his freedom speech. All of the sudden, community is articulated, it’s crystallized. When that happens, what is the natural result? The people, who had felt apart, are drawn to each other.

Instead of pushing away…”I don’t like you because I don’t like your eye glasses, I don’t like you because you’re bald, you’ve got a big nose so you must be Jewish, I don’t like you because I would never wear a collar like that, or you’re gross.” All of this pushing away of people, are what children do or much worse, are what adults do when they bully each other or countries. Our country being…having gone from one of the most respected and beloved countries to the most excoriated and perceived as a most threatening nation…how did that happen?! How does it happen that we become as human beings…instead of embraced? We’ve become feared either as individuals or as a country. What does that have to tell us about a world that has a bruised heart and is very frightened?

Ben: Peter, why do you take this so personal? I know your mother was a school teacher. That’s when you and I first met, I think it was about 25-26 years ago. You went to East Catholic High School in Manchester CT and performed in front of the whole auditorium. I surprised you don’t recognize me, I was the 3rd row up, geeky young man, very skinny…

Peter:You did know my mother? Really?

Ben:No, but I did meet you through your music when you were at the auditorium.

Peter: Why do I take it so personally? Artists generate a kind of sensitivity that’s unusual. That’s what, in a certain way, generates the vulnerability that’s needed to create. When you are in touch with a part of yourself that other people are not necessarily able to find. That sensitivity can be turned to, either as an artist, the capacity to communicate some things of depth. As a person it’s translated into something else, can go into one of a couple ways. You can become afraid of your audience. You’ve some artist like that who just…they don’t trust their relationship between them and other people because the public contention is made of crazy. Bob Dylan case in point, it’s not that he would have been that way without all that - -,

...but with all his genius and poetry, his inability to just hug everybody. If they wanted something from him, to learn, to discern the difference between a sincere embrace and somebody who just, in those days, wanted to enter his private life in an inappropriate ways.

Peter Yarrow with Cable Muse Network at Changing Hands

In my case, the other direction is to say, “Look, I have all this potential. I can talk about the things that are my hopes and dreams”. I’m not pushing you away or treating you like a member of the media community. I’m trying to reach beyond that category and say, “look, we have an opportunity that’s incredible”.

We can say to people, let’s embrace the kids. Take the heart of what they have before they learn today. Let that inspire us, so that we remember what really mattered when we were younger. Let’s turn away from our disappointments, our disaffection, our sense of cynicism if that’s where we were going. People say, we love those children because they are so open and they’re so filled with hopefulness and innocence and…and that’s where it ends. Well, guess what? You never have to lose that, you never have to lose it. You have to find a way not to succumb to the fears of the imposition of people who get….there are people who will really hate you, really really hate you if they feel that you’re in some way contradicting their perspective of what is moral rectitude, right.  

Peter Yarrow with Cable Muse Network at Changing Hands

Nobody as an adult is easily changed. Somebody who believes that an African American is stupid and a Jew is abhorishous and a Hispanic is lazy, they’re stuck in their place. It’s very hard, very unusual for them to change. We have to try and find the areas of common ground with people whom we disagree and try and respect the fact that their journey is taking them to places, perhaps, where they don’t have those sensitivities. We’re all people who care about stuff and I’ll bet you out there that every one of those people would say, “How could those Germans who knew about the holocaust allow that to happen?” When do we turn the camera around and say, “Do we know about Guantanamo Bay detainees? What did we do, what did I do? “Did I know about Katrina? What did I do?” What is still going on when you go down there? You see those crosses that go like a tic-tac-toe and at the top are the date that entered and in the other square, that’s number of people found dead and you know that was a strategic result of where the effort that was placed and they’re still not letting people come back. 

Ben: Are you a songwriter first or an activist first? You go back to the Vietnam War; you were an activist as well as a songwriter, a folk singer with Peter, Paul and Mary.

Peter: Well, sensibility for me came first, the music really a vehicle for feeling close to other people. In a world that I found, when I grew up, alienated. When I grew up, first of all, I had four years when I lived in an idealic circumstance. One of the Fame schools, the high school of Music and Art, and I was an art major.

Most everybody there take it as life and it - - - , it was all around you. In those four years I saw what the world could be like, because the arts to everybody together as they will…before today. Then when I went to Cornell, the world was crazy. If you didn’t have the right clothes on, you weren’t smooth. If you didn’t have the right pedigree in terms of your father’s wealth; forget about mothers, really, if you weren’t in the right fraternity…  When you go into the Ivy room which was the student building where you would eat; the Ivy room, on the right when you go in was the Jewish side and on the left was the White side. Catch this? 

(Video) Yarrow with Cable Interview Part 3 of 4

White and Jewish; and if you were African American, you were invisible. And women were treated like pawns to be traded with fraternity pins and promises for marriage. So you could extract affection and romance. Now, you don’t think I felt like a fish out of water?

All of the sudden, that creativity that I learned through the years, that’s the place to go with it, to turn as I say this song: “…Weave, Weave, Weave me the sunshine out of the falling rain and Weave me the hope of a new tomorrow and fill my cup again.”

Take the sadness and turn it into more love. This is what I’m doing that we loss Mary; turn it into more love or acknowledgement of the wonderment of what she was able to do. The more we did together; nothing was achieved in the Civil Rights Movement by force and dominance and bullying. Everything was achieved through inspiration, caring…everything was achieved through embrace and refusal to lose that core sense, so that’s what comes first. The music for me is an expression of that desire to be close to the human beings and to be a vehicle for something to come through me. That allows that thing that’s all around us, to unite us, which is the capacity to love, to empathize, to be vulnerable, to recognize ourselves in others and from that, everything political spreads. Because, If you could change all the laws you want in the world, but if the people don’t have it in their heart, they will never embrace something that takes us to a peaceful place. So we’ve got to bring it to the kids.

Ben:You’ve been doing this for three generations and in 2000 recently started your own organization or helped found it and that is Operation Respect. Can you go into it a bit?

Peter:My mother was a school teacher and I grew up learning what I knew from her and I understood that the process of education was getting more and more painful and difficult for kids. Teachers were leaving; my mother was a teacher, when you were teaching it was your whole career. Now, they were leaving after five years; fifty percent of them were gone.

Then I heard a song written by Steve Seskin with whom I sang with last night at a rosary gathering in Monterey. An incredible song. I knew immediately that I had the vehicle that could align me and my relationship to my organizing efforts in such a way that it would propel me into an effort and a movement to create an environment for kids in which they felt they were accepted, they were loved, they were honored, they were respected by other children. Based upon that song, I went to Educators for Social Responsibility.

“You’ll note that I keep doing this with my eye, I’m not sure that I’m awake.” [Laughter from camera crew] “Well, I woke up so early, 6 o’clock to fly down here from San Francisco. We had to drive from Monterey…anyway…”

And so, I made a bunch of songs on a CD and I went to Educators for Social Responsibility and they took this curriculum called, Resolving Conflict Creatively Program (RCCP). It has the fundamental building blocks of experiential learning for kids, to learn to sensitize them to different kids, to accept one another, to value each other for something internal, intrinsic, rather than for the…something that they have acquired for their clothes, for their wealth, that alerts to value them for their ability to…to be there for other people, it’s called ‘service learning’. It gives them the fundamentals of non-violent/conflict resolutions.  Now, if you put music together, and it’s music the teachers grew up on, like you do, way back when you saw me when you were a little “goofy naïf”. Instead of saying, “Oh, I can’t deal this; I’ve got to get these scores up because I’ll lose my job.” With no child left behind, that’s what happened. They’re all frightened, but if they hear, ‘Blowing In the Wind’, if they hear ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’…they are like “ooohh”. It happened when I was before the Republican as well as the Democratic Congressional Caucus and I had some time to talk them about this perspective. The Republican Congressional Caucus, it’s like putting a, what should I say? A predator, myself, in the midst of another family of predators that are naturally enemies. I walked in there, and how I got in there is another story, but, what am I gonna do to engage these people that know I’m a life long Democrat, and worse much worse. Well, they looked this… (arms crossed) they’re all sitting there, “well what the hell is he doing?” So I start singing, “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go. I’m standing here outside your door, I hate to wake you up to say good-bye” and they go from…to…Music!“  Now, all of the sudden a song from home that they knew when they were in Vietnam.”

I only had seven minutes, by the time I finished, there was a standing ovation. And fifty of them came up to me and said, we’ve got to work together to make sure that kids are given an environment in which they’re accepted and they’re not afraid to go to school. 160,000 kids a day stay home than go to school because they’re afraid to be bullied. We had two eleven year old kids last month in New York that hung themselves because of bullying.  

What have we become?  What have we become? I think the zero tolerance policy and punishing kids… by creating the antithesis of what, it’s not a kid’s problem. Look at television, look at those reality based shows; most of them acquire their energy from being shame-based. That’s a training ground for those kids. “Reality shows.” Look at the way congress treats children, look at the way they went after Van Jones and there are other people they’re going after, right now. What have we become as a nation?

When we have people based upon Barack Obama’s “wanting” to provide the people who are uninsured the same kind of gift that people of my age have through Medicare. That’s socialized medicine. Is that evil, to say that when somebody is ill, we will make sure as a society that they are taken care of?  What have we become? If we don’t deal with this, not in terms of policy alone, but in terms of our own humanity and allow our kids to grow up without saying, “I’m going to acquire those attitudes.”

I’m going to say, if I see the word ‘social’, is that thinking? Is that a member of a democracy you can think because say it and see a word? Then you use it as a slogan? What is the providing of a safe word? Socialism. What is the providing of traffic lights? Socialism. The providing by the state, for the needs of the people; why are you afraid of this word, while you’re using it to destroy? While you say, he’s a Nazi, a person is a Nazi, they say. I mean, let’s get real! But we don’t combat it, and I don’t combat it by haranguing you. As a matter of fact, I probably alienated a lot of you who are watching me talking to you right now because you don’t want to hear this kind of talk. [Knocking] But, if I sing this song, “I’m leaving on a jet plane. I don’t know when I’ll be back again”. You’ll listen. If I sing, ‘Day is Done’, then you’ll look and you know that we’re together. You’ll say, I’ll give this guy a break. I’ll listen to him, because his heart is loving. I don’t want to hear, he’s haranguing me about politics, but I do want to see that we are human beings together...

Ben:  Before we close, I really want to go back to Operation Respect. I heard a song in an interview that you had done prior …a little boy in glasses.

Peter:     That’s called: “Don’t laugh at me”. That’s the song, that’s the theme song or the anthem…

Ben:Your daughter, your son had heard this…

Peter: My daughter heard it at a folk festival, in Texas. Kerrville Folk Festival, it arguably the best festival to discover you talent and new talent. Most people - - - for the last decade came from unknown singer/songwriters who were singing there. This song, written by this amazing guy, Steve Seskin and his friend Allen Shamblin. I’ll sing it out here; you’ll get to see it. So we’ll talk about it, then you’ll see it and you’ll think. The music should come first because that opens the heart. So the best way to do this program, show me singing and then they’ll listen to what I have to say with different ears. Start with a hug. Hug first, ask questions.

Ben:  It was a pleasure meeting you and if I could have a little hug.

Peter Yarrow and Ben Cable of Cable Muse Network

Peter:  You are a good man.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)

Behind the News: (10/22/09) In response to the Cable Muse Network interview, Congressman Jared Polis stated today, "Peter Yarrow is awesome, incredible, and an inspiration to generations of global citizens.  Through the power of music he has transformed lives, and I am honored to call him a friend and mentor."

Behind the News: Reporters including Larry Rodgers of The Arizona Republic (10/08/2009) reported that Mary Travers died of "leukemia".  Peter Yarrow adamantly corrected the media reports including the Arizona Republic interview he participated and stated, Mary Travers passed away due to complications of her bone marrow transplant and not leukemia.

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