Folk singer Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary fame died Tuesday, owing to side effects from leukemia therapies. She was 72.
I have been a Peter, Paul and Mary fan almost from the moment they released their first self-titled album back in the early 1960s. They brought folk music into the mainstream owing to their superior harmonies, intricate arrangements, and the deft artistry of both Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey on guitar. They took the more rough-hewn recordings of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and others, mainly from the American folk tradition, and added elements of musicianship and, yes, a bit of polish.
While I later became a Dylan fan, at first I was put off by his almost atonal performances. Dylan owes a good deal to Peter, Paul and Mary. His great songs might well have lingered in relative anonymity had PP&M among others not reincarnated them more pleasingly to the ear.
I had four separate encounters with Mary Travers - all many years ago. They were all simply moments, nothing substantive, but in each case coming face to face with her towering personage (she stood at or near 6 feet) - with someone who to me was an icon - left a definite impression on me.
PP&M performed at Indiana University on a Saturday evening back in the fall of 1964. I got tickets, and had a date who didn't give a rat's ass about me but was willing to go through what was likely for her an otherwise excruciating evening to see and hear them in concert.
The Friday before, I was in the IU Bookstore shopping for I don't remember what exactly, when, rounding a rack of books, I ran headlong into Ms. Travers coming the other way around. We both dropped whatever we were carrying. I stood for a beat, likely with my jaw dropping to the floor, as recognition set in. I was totally flummoxed. We both knelt down to retrieve our respective books, notepads and whatnot; me, with what I'm sure was a large, stupid grin on my face, mumbling something unintelligible. As we stood, I believe I did manage to utter some sort of apology, as did she, and we went our separate ways. I'm sure my breathing took a good deal longer to return to some semblance of normalcy than hers did. I had a tale to tell back at the dorm.