Peter, Paul and Mary not just a nostalgia act

July 16, 1992|By New York Times News Service

The scene is a two-story living room on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Immense Chinese paintings, elegant Persian carpets, a coffee table made of packing boxes. Stacks of folding chairs await a voter registration benefit.

Peter, Paul and Mary are practicing.

"There is only one people," they sing.

"We are one and the same."

Strong voices slice the cool, cavernous space, first rising over one another, then coming together like a flock of Central Park pigeons.

Peter Yarrow, the 54-year-old owner of the apartment, is now pounding his foot as if putting out a fire. It is a new song, but the triumphant sound -- and the transcendent sentiment -- would be familiar to four generations of fans.

After all the years and all the causes, Peter, Paul and Mary are carrying on.

Warner Brothers is re-releasing all the group's albums as CD's, they will soon tape a TV special, and just this week they signed to do a new children's album. And as they do every year, they are meeting their goal of having new songs make up at least a third of their concerts.

Most important, they continue to fight what they see as the good fight. Just as they sang beside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington in 1963, they sing for causes today, from abortion rights to the plight of the cities to AIDS.

"It pains me greatly to be referred to as a nostalgia act," said Noel Paul Stookey, 54, who long ago adopted his famous middle name on the advice of his manager.

Mary Travers, 55, added, "There's a difference between the words nostalgia and history, between nostalgia and the continuity of values."

The night before, the trio had played at a benefit to help save the Bitter End, the folk club on Bleecker Street where they first performed publicly 31 years ago.

The club is currently fighting eviction.

Mr. Stookey did his most excellent imitation of a toilet flushing, the first such rendition his colleagues could recall in something like 25 years. Even that could not shake the equanimity of a folk audience.

"They fold their arms and nod in a knowing way," Mr. Stookey said, laughing.

They sang "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and Ms. Travers thought of Yugoslavia.

For the first time, she said, she felt comfortable enough with her age that it didn't sting when a listener said he hadn't heard a particular song since he was a child.

"It suddenly became O.K.," she told her pleased colleagues.

*

Peter Paul and Mary are scheduled to perform at the Pier Six Concert Pavilion July 22. For tickets and information call (410) 625-1400.

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