People have been wondering what folksinger/activists, some of them septuagenarians like Noel Paul Stookey and me, might be doing in the face of the current cataclysmic challenges to our democracy and our nation.
The answer is simple: we are going to keep on keeping on. We inherited a legacy from Woody, Pete Seeger and the Weavers and many others who inspired us. They never quit, never stopped and never stopped advocating. Doing so is “in our blood” and it’s a great gift to both Noel and me, as it would be to Mary – were she still to be with us. She would join, even (or maybe especially) at our advanced age, the current advocacies that “hammer out a warning”, “ring out danger” and “sing about the love between our brothers and our sisters”. No, we’ve not “gone away”. We, and others who also come from the folk music/activist tradition, are solidly committed to using our music to generate community and consensus at our concerts and at gatherings and demonstrations to confront the most dangerous of challenges now threatening our country.
I have written, and currently perform, two songs that have come out of the presidential campaign and its results, one being The Children Are Listening and the other being, Lift Us Up. I am grateful that, in a limited context (for sure) both of these songs have become rallying points for efforts to assert what is good in ourselves and what is reprehensible and frightening in the face of the recent election.
By far the most important effort yet, by either Noel Paul or me – in terms of its reach and, in my opinion, its brilliance – is Impeachable, a parody Noel wrote of the song Unforgettable, which was a huge hit by Nat King Cole from the early 1950s. Impeachable was just released on the internet and went viral with, currently, over 800,000 hits. (Please share this link with your buddies and help us spread the message.)
Impeachable is an example of Noel’s extraordinary ability to write a super-funny, very surprising yet also, highly nuanced, lyric. He is, and has always been, an amazing songwriter. In its first public performance last weekend Impeachable brought the audience at our concert in Thousand Oaks, CA to its feet with a prolonged standing ovation. There were screeches of delight the likes of which I have never before heard at a Peter Paul and Mary concert.
Noel has clearly struck a hugely resonant chord amongst those who heard the hammer strokes warning of a grave danger to our nation, our democracy and, in fact, the whole earth.
Impeachable is a new twist on the kinds of songs that Peter Paul and Mary were singing that helped to mobilize Americans at the time of the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. Blowing In the Wind and If I Had a Hammer written by Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger & Lee Hays, respectively, were anthems that brought folks together in ways that let them recognize, in very personal ways, their collective strength as well as reassert a commonly held ethical/political perspective. Such was also the case with Where Have All the Flowers Gone and a myriad of other songs. With their repetition at rallies, marches and on the radio, these songs inspired many newcomers to the world of activism who asserted to us that our music, and that of our fellow folk musicians, became the “sound track of their political awakening”. (In our view, this is one of the greatest compliments we ever received.)
Today, of course, the dominant transmission of such advocacies comes through social media, though in-person efforts such as The Women’s March on Washington, and the demonstrations at Standing Rock that electrified the nation are still, I believe, the most powerful tools for social/political mobilization.
Also, there is another new aspect to a musician’s, or an actor’s, or any artist’s efforts in the realm of advocacy. In this time, humor, as offered by the likes of John Oliver, the gifted cast and guests, such as the amazing Alec Baldwin, on Saturday Night Live, Samantha Bee, Melissa McCarthy, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, to name just a few, has played a huge role in inspiring and activating the spirit of our nation. It cuts through the extreme “noise” in tweets, frightening pronouncement and actions emanating from the current administration,
Please take heart my friends. From my travels, I have found that there has been a huge call to action heeded, even (and emphatically) in my and Noel’s elder demographic. Be assured that a large body of former artist-activists is mobilizing now with their songs, their poetry, their heart-rending videos, their humor and their visual work on signs and memes that spread across the internet with ever more amazing directness, humor, and determination. As long as this continues to build, we’re walking together and gaining strength. Let’s carry it on, my friends.
In solidarity and love,
By Noel Paul Stookey
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