Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Still Magic After All These Years

From a dusty high shelf last week I pulled down some cassette tapes. My car contains the only functioning implement with which to decode these messages from the previous century, so today as I drove I listened to "Peter, Paul and Mommy."

I had the original 1969 PP&M record--the dust jacket folded open to reveal a 20-inch version of the front photo and the injunction to "Pin a mustache on Peter and Paul." I loved that record. When my older daughter was 4 or so, I bought the cassette for her, and she liked it, but I don't think she dreamed to it the way I did.

Listening to it again today, with my younger daughter in the back seat, I was amazed that I had liked these songs--many of them are quite adult, or at the least, sentimental. There are two lullabies, not counting Peter Yarrow's "Day is Done," which strikes me now as an obscene combination of adult angst and tender bedtime wishes. Here's a verse and the chorus:

Do you ask why I'm sighing, my son?
You shall inherit what mankind has done.
In a world filled with sorrow and woe
If you ask me why this is so, I really don't know.

And if you take my hand my son
All will be well when the day is done.
And if you take my hand my son
All will be well when the day is done.

After listening a little, Helen asked me to turn up the volume, and when we got to our destination she was sad that we had to turn off the car. (I explained that the music would start from the same spot when we turned the car back on. "But in Dad's car, the music doesn't stay where you left it," she said. She accepted my answer that a radio is different than a tape player, but clearly, the distinction between these ancient technologies was not a matter of concern for a 6-year-old child of the 21st century.)

On the return trip, as we were pulling up to the house in the middle of "Puff, the Magic Dragon," Helen asked with more sincerity than one would think possible in a child whose favorite song is quite possibly "Cat Flushing a Toilet," "Could you not turn off the car until the song is over?"

Oh, sweet child, of course I won't. This is the song I used to almost cry to. I had a private worry, each time, that somehow the words would have changed and Puff would slip into his grave instead of his cave.

Best of all, throughout the whole ride, she never once asked me to stop singing along.

I like to think that the absolute beauty of the music --the shifting melody and harmony lines among the three voices, the detailed guitar work-- are what touched my obstinate, opinionated, independent younger daughter. Maybe she was just in a mellow mood this afternoon.