September 17, 2009
When Mary Travers and I Hugged Each Other

Back before the internet had things like browsers that had pictures and when there were computers that would only allow just the use of words, so that people talked with each other online by writing back and forth to each other on usenet groups, sometimes arguing with each other about things, and occasionally meeting online, I had the opportunity to make a short online friendship with Noel Paul Stookie.

Known as Paul of the group Peter, Paul and Mary, they were a group that came of age when I was five years of age but throughout my lifetime, and Iím now 52, they were always popular to one degree or another, for many years with parents who took their children to their concerts, often to hear the song that I guess I first heard them sing when I was five or six years of age, Puff the Magic Dragon.

But Peter Paul and Mary were also heavily involved in making this world just a little better than they found it when they got here. And I think they really did succeed in that. Since they are now no longer a group, Mary Travers having traveled on to the great beyond where we are not, I donít know what tomorrow holds for Peter and Paul.

But without Mary, Peter Paul and Mary could not have existed and been loved and cherished as they were for so many generations. Or accomplish some of the great things that they did. Nor could Mary have given me a big hug, the story of which is below the fold.

In the days of usenet, I got interested in folk music and particularly old English and Scottish and Irish ballads and there was a rather common song that was only rarely performed well. And I had several versions of that song on a number of records and CDs. The song was called Greenland Whale Fishery or Greenland Whale Fisheries. It tells the story of a whaling vessel that takes off to Greenland in some specific date depending on the singer or singing group, from the 1700s to the 1800s. The day and date vary from version to version and from group to group; perhaps if you felt you did it well you sang it as happening on your birthday or on the death of a loved one, or for some other reason that has probably been lost to history.

And as all whaling boats do, these have a lookout who uses a spyglass to look for the tell tale sign of the whale, the steam of the blow hole, and inevitably the whale is spotted and the hunt is on and it is then mammal against mammal, a fight for survival which the better, more peaceful animal usually loses.

But in Greenland Whale Fishery (or Fisheries as it is sometimes called) the bigger mammal wins the fight and a group of men from four to fourteen or more throw their harpoon into the whale and the whale dives and takes the men and their small harpoon vessel down with them and the whale goes to parts unknown as do the men, who are all drowned.

In some versions of the song, the person who sings the song, who is a crewman or a surviving wife or girlfriend who heard the story, remarks that the captain laments the loss of his men, but what he truly laments is the loss of that great sperm whale, which would make the captain a man like Dick Cheney or George Bush.

But in certain versions, particularly the Peter Paul and Mary version, the captain is presented as a nice man who truly grieves for those men who he worked with — perhaps they were thinking of someone great like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, partisanship being something we try to remember whenever we write at this blog, or at least a few of us do. Others perhaps being more perceptive at times. And that's saying you called some things right, Chuck.

In these perilous times when it sometimes seems that so many of those we thought were our neighbors turn out not to care whether we live or die, Sperm Whales and huge piles of cash being their objective just like that evil captain, I often wonder why we don’t do more to change things. Like march in the streets. But maybe that doesn’t work the same anymore since our national media just ignores those kinds of things and pretends not to notice (but they couldn’t with a group as large as that one in Washington in the video above).

So getting back to Usenet, I asked on the folk usenet group what version was considered the historically correct version of that song, which I realize now was a foolish question. And at that point who else but Noel Paul Stookie comes in to join the conversation since PP&M did that song. To make a long story short, I moved shortly thereafter to Seattle because I was tired of lawyering and foreclosing on people's homes during the end of George H. W. Bushís term (these Bush guys are predictable about creating financial crises) and I just decided I couldnít do that kind of work anymore and besides, this new thing called a browser that could do the internet with pictures had been invented and something told me it was going to change the world and the computer was going to be something entirely different than what it was under Usenet.

So I packed my bags and moved to Seattle, Washington, and promptly got horrible ear infections and over the course of two and a half years had two ear operations, a month or two of IV injections that took twenty minutes to get several times every day and an ulcer from what the antibiotics did to my stomach, not necessarily in that order. And during my third winter there, I left due to a busted budget due to the health problems.

But Noel Stookie sent me tickets to a concert while I was there and I passed three of them along to help some people less fortunate than me as I didnít really know anyone in Seattle yet when I first got there, and I went to the concert with my backstage pass in hand. And after the concert there was this huge throng of people there waiting to see the trio and I figured they had what I had and I would get in that long line.

But I showed my backstage passes to one of the guards and I was quickly whisked to the front of that long line which hadn’t started moving yet and there I stood with the three other people who were with me there — we were the first folks in the door — and Mary Travers, who was twice as wide as I was (and I’m no small guy) had her arms unfolded out wide and she gave me a big, huge, wonderful hug and I hugged her back just as hard and I then very briefly spoke to Paul, Peter being off into his trailer inside that backstage arena and then I went on my way as many others were waiting to ďmeetĒ the group.

All because I was curious and had the audacity to ask some questions about a song when the internet was a much smaller group of folks than it is now. But that was such a nice hug and I guess it happened because Mary Travers was the kind of person who wanted to make people in this world feel like someone cared about them. And I suspect that she treated all her fans that way, helping to make them feel better about themselves no matter who they were. So Iíve been one of her fans ever since.

Because the world needs a whole lot more people like her. In particular, Republicans as well as Democrats who care about their fellow man and whether he lives or dies and whether he will be shunted off into a corner to die because a big, fat captain out there somewhere who prefer a dead sperm whale to fill his or her coffers with more cash than he needs to live a good life instead of seeing his neighbors get the opportunity to see the doctor when they are sick.

So here’s a tribute to Peter, Paul and especially Mary when they were at their best. And Iíll follow up later with another song for Mary after a while, which I promise wonít have any writing in it, but will just be a link to a song.

Iíve taken the liberty of showing them here at a very important time when people in our country rose up and told Richard Nixon and all his whaling ship friends who must have loved the money they could get from those big whales more than they cared about people who fought in senseless wars like Vietnam that made a lot of money for a very few people (who Smedley Darlington Butler had cut down once, but not good enough — look him up if you donít know who he was) and that they weren’t going to take it anymore. Maybe weíll have to do that again one day.

Maybe we need to do it now and soon.

But what I am writing about now is that I just want this country to do for its citizens what all the civilized modern industrialized countries all do: provide all citizens with health care so they don’t get pulled down by a bunch of big, mean men and women who like big dead whale carcasses, like unnecessary wars for instance, and like what they can get for running wars more than they care about people. Because when that happens we all lose.

And because I am sure Mary Travers would have wanted it that way.

Posted by Buck Batard at September 17, 2009 09:23 AM
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Beautiful post for a beautiful person. And Peter, Paul, Mary and John Denver were very nice too!

Posted by: Mike Goldman on September 17, 2009 1:14 PM

Nice story. Never had a chance to meet her, but I have always pictured her as a caring human being. Thanks for the reinforcement. Rest well, Mary.

Posted by: John Gall on September 17, 2009 4:02 PM
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