BLUE HILL — One might think that, as he closes in on his 80th birthday, Noel Paul Stookey would be content to kick back, relax and take a contemplative view of a musical career that has spanned six decades.
But on a November afternoon, sitting in the kitchen of his South Blue Hill home with a guitar in hand and both voice and fingers still in good form, Stookey observed that “the harsh reality of our political climate” still cries out for the sort of resistance that has been an integral part of his music since the protest songs of the 1960s when he arrived on the folk music scene as one-third of Peter, Paul and Mary.
And now, when faced with “the bizarre results of the 2016 election,” he’s more than ready to provide that resistance. Stookey says the fact that his music has political perspective “is part of a larger evolution that began when I went to Greenwich Village in the ’60s and discovered that music, while entertaining and perhaps inspiring, could also be informative. I feel a responsibility to my neighbors to articulate what many of them may be feeling but don’t have a musical platform.”
Stookey has just released a four-song compact disc titled “summerfallwinterspring” that includes a song loosely designated for each season. Two of the CD’s songs are about as politically topical as it gets.
A spontaneous comment last spring by a longtime friend sparked Stookey to pen the lyrics to “Impeachable,” set to the well-known tune of “Unforgettable.” Given the controversy that has surrounded the presidency of Donald Trump so far, it’s not surprising that a YouTube video version of the song has garnered more than a million views so far.
Late this summer, Stookey was moved to put to music what he calls “a Facebook rant” by Thomas J. Gray taking issue with the notion advanced by Trump supporters that, since he won, Americans should “work together” to support an agenda they perceive as harmful to our democracy. “I thought that’s the way the situation should be approached,” said Stookey. “Not by calling names — there’s enough of that going on — but just telling people what you won’t be a party to. Because if you don’t, you’re going to be a party to it.”
“I Will Stand (Work Together)” quickly became part of the set list for his live performances, frequently arousing spontaneous ovations that interrupted almost every line.
Stookey then put out an email invitation to several of his singer-songwriter friends inviting their musical contributions to a recorded version of the song. Over a two-week period, the responses — from Peter Yarrow, Jonathan Edwards, Tom Chapin, Holly Near, Josh White Jr., David Mallett, Barry Ollman, David Roth and Maureen McGovern — were combined with the voices of a chorus of volunteers from the Blue Hill area, mixed by engineer John Stuart at his Gorham studio, and turned into a seamless musical production. It sounds, says Stookey, “as if the artists recorded the song in the same studio at the same time.”
The fall and winter songs, “Moon River” and “Somethin’ Special,” are part of a longer range Stookey project: a holiday album for 2018.
Stookey said he chose Henry Mancini’s classic “Moon River,” setting it to guitar chords inspired by the music of Eric Satie, “to speak to the hopeful dreamer in each of us.”
The winter offering is a holiday reminiscence that harkens back to Stookey’s Maryland childhood. “Somethin’ Special” tells the heartwarming story of a Christmas gift conjured up by an artistic mother and inventive father. “Between the two of them,” says Stookey, “they found ways to surprise AND inspire me at critical times in my life.”
“If you’re a musician,” says Stookey, “you can’t stop making music. Hardly a moment goes by that there’s not some melody going on in my head. As long as that keeps happening, I’m going to be active.”