Peter Yarrow on music and healthcare
The Huffington Post shared a letter today which Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul and Mary) wrote to a physician-activist who asked him which songs could champion the current movement for healthcare reform.
He makes an interesting point, choosing “This Land Is Your Land” as a potential anthem of the quest for healthcare for all Americans. He alludes to something I believe could be at the heart of why my generation has yet to produce a truly effective and wide-sweeping protest song movement. That is that songs which motivate us to work for change, as “We Shall Overcome” did for the Civil Rights Movement, are affirming songs, not finger-pointing tunes. They’re songs which highlight our common interests and remind us how human history has been as full of transcendence as it has been full of disagreements and hostilities. Ani DiFranco told me a few years ago that protest songs are more difficult to write these days because the words you have to use to talk about the issues we face now are just flat-out not musical words. Of course here we are at a time when I, for one, am not really looking for topical songs with which to soundtrack my frustration. But still, folks who may be inclined to sing the kind of songs which can get us through future struggles might be well advised to take Yarrow’s hint in this article.
Early in the letter, he says:
[W]e are at a point at which the arc of history might be bent — but only if we do not falter now and if we seize this most propitious moment. To my mind, the most important focus that we, those of long determination and commitment to a just and equitable society, need to maintain in song and in spirit, is an observance of our gratitude for what is good and is so exciting that is re-emerging in our country. Pete Seeger’s choice of song in the context of President Obama’s inauguration, “This Land Is Your Land”, was exactly right, in my opinion.
You can read the rest of that letter and some of Yarrow’s thoughts which frame it at huffingtonpost.com.