| peter paul and mary were but
three years 'old' when john fitzgerald kennedy was killed
in dallas texas in 1963. coincidentally the trio was booked
to do a performance in dallas the night of the president's
arrival and there was even some talk about his attendance
of the concert since we had performed for him in washington
a few months earlier to celebrate the second anniversary
of his presidency.|
following that d.c. event, at an informal and somewhat impromptu
party held at the then vice-president lyndon johnson's house,
the president and ms kennedy requested what turned out to be
essentially a 'repeat performance' from all the artists in
attendance; joan sutherland, carol burnett, yves montand and
gene kelly and ourselves just to mention a few. one of my fondest
memories to this date is the image of the president and gene
kelly tap dancing to 'when irish eyes are smiling' on a floor
made bare by the rolling up of a persian carpet in the johnson
living room. after the performances (which included, among
other songs like 500 miles, a sing-a-long of puff the magic
dragon), the president graciously came to each of the performers
to personally thank us.
peter and i were standing together as he approached.
"What was the name of that song you sang..." kennedy inquired, "where everyone
applauded? They seemed to know the lyrics as well..."
"Oh..." replied peter, "that was 'If I Had a Hammer'. They knew the song because
it was released as a single and...uh..."
peter paused. i could see his momentary clocking of the situation.
i was sure he was thinking 'gads here i am talking to the president
of the united states about something as insignificant as a
specific recording format...it may be totally unknown to him.'
"Uh, a single is a recording of just one tune...put on a vinyl...", peter began
instructively, extending his slightly cupped hands about seven inches apart from
"Oh, i know, i know..." interrupted the president smiling gently, "i just
don't get much of a chance anymore to listen to the radio while driving to work..."
and so by personal encounter and, of course, his more public
appearances, peter mary and i came to share a particular perception
of the president as the spokesperson for a new vision; a new
hope for an involved america.
after hearing the news on the car radio, mary and i continued
our drive from houston texas to dallas in mute shock. my initial
hope (or a classic case of denial) was that 1) the information
was not true, and/or 2) the information must be exaggerated
and finally that 3) even if such a thing were possible, of
course the president would recover...
would that any of those options
have been true. the fact of the matter was that the president
was officially pronounced dead by the time we arrived
at our dallas hotel. at 5pm we joined peter who had arrived
earlier and within the hour had cancelled our concert,
mourned briefly and booked the next flight out of town.
over the next ten to fifteen years i (and i think most of
america as well) attempted to understand WHY a charismatic
president - a symbol of our revitalized nation - would have
been assassinated. who could have conceived and carried out
such a thing? was it that peter, mary and i had so completely
misunderstood the sense of the country? the concerns of our
audiences? was there not an enlightenment, a 'movement' if
you will, toward a broader more inclusive understanding of
what was meant by 'human rights'?! while it would have been
naive to assume that the mere passage of a civil rights law
could instantly change longstanding antagonistic relationships,
that at least the legislation seemed to be an indication
of majority public sentiment. did the assassination mean
that the values that we held were a minority view? that,
in fact, america held no 'real' shared vision of our
as if in answer to these questions, the subsequent shootings
of martin luther king, junior and robert kennedy, seemed
to re-enforce the awareness of an evil intolerance that still
roamed the country.