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1971

1971


MERRY CHRISTMAS, MISTER STOOKEY

(a carnegie remembrance by one third of Peter Paul and Mary)

 

it is october of 1971. i am stunned. on the phone with me is harold leventhal (pete seeger’s manager) and he’s asking me if i would consider performing solo at Carnegie Hall in december.

mind you, as the ‘Paul’ of Peter, Paul and Mary, i have performed twice before in the ‘hallowed’ hall, but we have stopped work as a trio over a year ago and now, on the basis of what could only be called a modest success with the single recording of "There Is Love (the wedding song)", i am being given an opportunity to return once again...and as a solo?!

in all innocence and with encouragement and assurances from my ex-manager and his staff that such a concert would be well within their capabilities to handle, i excitedly agree and just six short weeks later on a december afternoon find myself backstage at carnegie planning the final integration of a concert format involving the paul-and band that had backed me up on the first solo album and the first carnegie showing of an animated cartoon, "Norman Normal", produced by Warner Brothers subsequent to a sound track i had created with mouth sounds for a mid-60’s peter paul and mary recording.

the sound check behind us, the band and i are headed upstairs to the upstairs dressing rooms to begin wrapping rubber bands with tiny jingle bells around the poster/program books we had designed for the evening when charlie rothschild, one of the management team, calls me at the foot of the stairs. he looks terrible...

"Charlie", i inquire, "...why the long face?"

"I’m really sorry Noel", he says. "We dropped the ball"

"Huh?", i return.

"We didn’t keep track of the ticket sales", he replies.

"Well, how many tickets have they sold?", i ask with a sinking feeling.

"About 200...", his voice trails off and he lifts a hand helplessly.

"You mean we have...", i pause to do some quick mathematics, "...uh, over 2000 empty seats?!"

"I’m afraid so.", he nods.

i’m speechless, "What do you think we ought to do?"

"Well, i guess it’s up to you...", he says sheepishly.

this is staggering. aside from all the personal arrangements i’ve made with family and friends, i’ve pulled together these ‘party favors’, the animated cartoon showing, the, the...why i’ve even arranged for a 24 track recording truck to record the thing. i can’t cancel now!!

i look up the stairs where the band had gone. i look back at charlie. i close my eyes and for some reason i remember this scripture about a man who’s giving the wedding feast and none of his expected guests can attend...

"Go get me the tickets...", i tell charlie.

"Huh?", he blinks.

"Go to the box office, leave maybe 200, 300 tickets there but bring the rest of them back here", i say again.

"What are you gonna do?", he asks haltingly.

"We’re gonna spread the wealth...", i smile...

and while charlie ambles away toward the box office, i join the band upstairs. as we’re threading the tiny little bells onto the rubber bands i explain to them that there has been a serious oversight by management...but that we are going to have ourselves a carnegie concert tonight no matter...

and so, at four o’clock the afternoon of the evening performance, each member of the band hits the street with about 250 tickets and, headed in a different direction, seeks out every window-shopping couple they can find. after all, it is the season to be jolly and here are two free tickets to carnegie hall for a folk christmas and hey, if it’s boring we can leave...it’s free!

it takes less than two hours to distribute the remaining tickets and by seven thirty the hall is packed...the omnipresent tinkle of tiny bells seems like a blanket of giggles in the austere hall...a little unruly...a little noisy...but packed.

...and didn’t we have a grand time?! most of the peter paul and mary material was greeted warmly that evening (slowly, as a growing awareness of just who this ‘noel paul stookey’ is anyway?!) along with the newest of the band songs. dick kniss, the ex peter paul and mary bass player made his singing debut...and peter yarrow, just in from kansas city, made a surprise appearance to sing a duet with me at the close of the first half. paul winter brought his best wishes and a basket of apples from connecticut. john denver came backstage to give me a hug. NORMAN NORMAL, the animated cartoon, was shown at the conclusion of intermission and set up nicely the final 40 minute finale which included (and properly so) a rock and roll version of jingle bells. almost a year later, in 1972, we released a single in-concert album from that event; "One Night Stand" and, typical of their generous ways in the 60’s, Warner Brothers incorporated most of the evening concert losses in their recording costs.

EPILOGUE:

since reuniting in 1978, Peter, Mary and I have returned to carnegie perhaps a half a dozen times to perform our Christmas/Hannukah program with the New York Choral Society. the programs are always well received, well attended and, in fact, recently televised for the Public Broadcasting Stations.

still, for me, there will always be this lingering sound of tiny jingle bells in the air and a special place in my heart for the most loved, most disastrous concert of them all


 

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