A diverse collection of personal and journalistic writings from the late folk singer.
To the music world, Mary Travers (1936-2009) is best known as one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary, the popular 1960s folk-singing act. Their recordings of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Puff, the Magic Dragon” were the soundtrack of a generation in transition. But most audiences may not be aware of Travers’ talent as a keen, observant writer. This new collection of writings, published five years after her death, showcases that side of her through eloquent essays (some previously unpublished), columns she wrote for the Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times in the 1980s, and several poems. It’s neither a straightforward memoir nor an in-depth chronicle of her success in Peter, Paul and Mary; rather, each chapter is devoted to a particular theme. It begins poignantly with Travers’ reminiscences of growing up in New York City and her friendship with an African-American maid who became like a second mother to her. Next, she offers insightful wisdom about the art of singing and the ins and outs of the music business (“Managers, agents, lawyers have hostile attitudes toward artists. Most of them think that the artists are ding-dongs,” she writes). Another chapter features her writings about her political views and activism, through her travels to the Philippines, the Soviet Union and South Korea during the 1980s (“I spoke; I sang out against oppression; I got involved”). Among the book’s highlights are transcriptions of interviews Travers conducted as host of her own radio program in the 1970s with Bob Dylan, Richie Havens and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Although the book tackles some serious subjects—including an illegal abortion Travers had at a young age, and the poverty she witnessed in the Philippines—it also reveals her humorous side, particularly through her onstage monologues. On the topic of growing old, she says, “I am technologically challenged....I’m the kind of person when it doesn’t work, I kick it.” Overall, the book presents a portrait of someone who was relatable and down-to-earth. “There was much more to Mary than the public ever knew,” writes her friend and bandmate Peter Yarrow in the book’s foreword. Fortunately, through this collection, the world will now have the opportunity to know Travers as more than just a folk singer.
A lovingly assembled tribute to an artist whose literary gifts complemented her musical ones.