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Song: Where have all the
Where have all the flowers
First of all, I want to start by saying to those who would fuel rumors I’ve turned a hard left by releasing my remake of this song, it’s false. A right-wing nut never falls far from the tree, though I consistently strive to keep an open mind and to see things from both sides.
Where have all the Flowers
My reasons for covering this song are, first, because Mary Travers, of the folk trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, who put out one of the most memorable renditions of the song, just passed away (God rest her soul), and, second, because I have fond memories of this song from my early childhood. Those were the good old days, when “hippie” and “beatnik” songs like these and others, like…
Blowin’ in the Wind
and “Ticky Tacky,” were regularly
sung and taught to children like me in daily classes and weekly assemblies.
I’m sure parents that were as conservative as mine were at the time, or
more conservative, if aware, would have taken their kids out of school
in protest, suspecting the introduction of these songs to young children
to be a vast left-wing conspiracy. The fact is that most of us were
too young to understand the political implications of such songs.
We didn’t know whether or not we were being brainwashed, we just thought
the songs were cool.
Where have all the young
We’ve all heard about the circle of life. Elton John sings about it, in the soundtrack for the movie, Lion King. The theme is less directly emphasized in hundreds of songs that have been written, performed and recorded throughout the ages. Well, Where Have all the Flowers Gone is a song about the circle of death, and it points to the futility, and tragedy of war.
It is a song of questioning, like Blowin’ in the Wind, and it is a song of mourning. The odd thing is, anger is an important stage in the grieving process, but you won’t find it in the song. It is gentle, peaceful and breezy. Perhaps when the song was written, Pete Seeger hadn’t gone through all of the stages of grieving yet, or perhaps he either transcended or skipped the anger stage. Seeger and Joe Hickerson are credited for having written the song, but actually, it was adapted from a poem. When it was first performed, it was performed in French by Marlene Dietrich (Qui pent dire ou vont les fluers). She later recorded it in both French and German (Sag mir, wo die Blumen Sind).
The song transcends language as it was written in a universal language, the language of peace. It reaches back, romantically, in a deep longing for a time and a place that, in reality, has never existed, at least not since the days of Adam and Eve. Since the fall the human race, war has always been, and always will be. But is war inevitable? Will there always be certain powers, certain peoples, or groups that will not respond to diplomacy, and only understand the language of war? Is there such a thing as a just war? What constitutes a just war?
That brings me to the lyrics
of this song
More specifically, these are the words that hit home most poignantly:
“There are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run too deep, for such a simple man…”
Yes, the questions do run too deep. But the next question that comes to mind is this one: Should we then stop asking them? I don’t have the answer to any of the questions I’ve raised. The questions in the song, Where have all the Flowers Gone, are answered in the song.
The bigger questions remain elusive. But wherever those questions take us, we’ll always keep coming back to simple folk songs like these to take us somewhere that logical analysis could never take us. And for this, I am grateful to Pete Seeger, and to Joe Hickerson. And for the most graceful, most poignant interpretation of the song I have ever heard, I thank Peter, Paul and Mary. Mary, you will be dearly missed. May your soul rest in the very peace, elusive on earth, that you were only able to sing about while you walked on this war-waging, war-weary world.