Sunday, June 05, 2005

Old Folkies

He's the man with the banjo and the 12-string guitar.
And he's singing us the songs that tell us who we are.
When you look in his eyes you know that somebody's in there.
Yeah, he knows where we're going and where we been
And how the fog is gettin' thicker where the future should

When you look at his life you know that he's really been

When I first heard Harry Chapin’s song Old Folkie, the first verse of which I quoted above, I thought of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston (whose song, East Texas Red, I am playing as I write this), etc. I suppose I was alive at the end of the era when they were around. When, in my teens, I became aware of their music—and their social commentary and activism—I began to identify with them and they became, along with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., my heroes.

Through the years I have listened to their music, played it on guitar (12- and 6-string) and banjo, and sung their songs whenever I could find anyone who would listen. (And, when no one would listen), I’d sing to myself.

Yesterday, at the Conference meeting, I was sitting beneath a tree talking with some old friends. We discussed the state of out nation and its economy; the seeming “death” of social activism and justice as the United States swings further and further into the fog of right-wing politics. And, of course, we remembered those days years ago, when life seemed more meaningful—and, I’ll add, exciting—as we strove for racial, political, economic and social justice.

At some point someone asked me, “Did you bring your guitar?”

I hadn’t. I wished that I had. At that moment I really wanted to strum and sing those songs from what now seems a lost time—the Camelot, not only of the JFK years, but of a time when people seemed really compassionate and truly considered about other folks and their plight.

Then someone said to me, “With your white beard and the way you've lived your life, you’re just an ‘old folkie.’” Then she paused and added, “Hell, I guess we are all old folkies—dinosaur relics from a past age.”

And, I think she may be right:

What is the name that they're calling that

What is the name that they're calling that

You know, it's always the "Old

Singing for some hopeless cause.
Shouting at the mountain top
The wind is his only applause.
It's always the "Old Folkie"
We don't know what we're missing
'Cause nobody ever listens,
'Cept the lovers as they're kissin'
Oh, he's singing for them somewhere.
Yeah, the "Old Folkie's" there.
The” Old Folkie's" there.
~ Harry Chapin, Old Folkie.

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