Yo Mama’s Tribute to Tom Paxton, America’s Troubadour

Last night I was rejuvenated.  Tom Paxton, the quintessential American folksinger, performed at The Barns at Wolftrap National Park For the Performing Arts and I was lucky enough to be there.  Also, playing along with Paxton was Robin Bullock, a fantastic musician in his own right.

Tom Paxton has been composing and performing for over 50 years.  I raised my children to his songs of peace, justice, love and childhood.  There is no better agenda to assign oneself and when these subject matters are paired with music, the end result is meaningful and magical.  Not only were the children’s songs downright fun, but also, as the kids grew older, the songs about serious causes opened many paths of communication and conversations about issues affecting us every day.  The lessons and enjoyment gleaned from these compositions are life-long, so conducive to creating a worthwhile, harmonious and productive life.

Paxton is very well-known for his dedication to peace efforts and has penned a number of hard-hitting songs about the uselessness of war and violence.  Remember his song “Jimmy Newman”?

Paxton sang a song last night about the senseless massacre in Tucson, called “What If, No Matter…”.   This song is a powerful statement on America’s senseless, unsatiable need to bear arms.  It just about took my breath away:

Over his long career, Paxton has written songs, jam-packed with satire and sarcasm, that reflect the character of the times and the absurdities of everyday life.  “One Million Lawyers” and “Yuppies in the Sky” are two of his classics.  In response to today’s issues, his timeliness and relevancy is just as apparent in his “I Am Changing My Name to Fannie Mae”:

Also, with an aye to current news, Paxton seems to have a soft spot in his heart, just as I do, for Our Sarah’s antics:

Paxton’s love songs are wonderful.  “I Give You the Morning” gets better with every passing decade:

The part of last night’s concert that brought tears to my eyes was especially those songs written for his family; his wife and his two daughters, Jennifer and Kate.  He sang a song (co-written with Debbie Smith) called “Marry Me Again”.  For those of us in marriages that have spanned a good number of decades, this simple plaint, “Marry Me Again”, is the most romantic request and highest compliment one spouse can pay to another:

His daughters are now in their forties.  When they were young, he wrote “Jennifer’s Rabbit” and “Katie” in their honor.  Each song captures the specific personality of each daughter.  The lyrics to “Katie” are sheer genius.  He continues to be entranced by his girls and has a more current song on his daughters as grown women:

Paxton’s children’s songs were the staples of my children’s upbringing: “The Marvelous Toy” and “Going to the Zoo”.  Just as salt and sugar are the bare necessities of setting up a functional kitchen, so were these joyous songs essential to childhood.

Even though Tom Paxton is in his seventies now, he still has his fingers on the pulse of the important things in life: peace, justice, love and children.  He is a national treasure who gets better with each passing year.  He finished up last night with a song about, in high honor of, the fallen firefighters from the 9/11 tragedy at the twin towers at the World Trade Center:

The imagery Paxton evokes with his lyrics are remarkable.  The voice of the song is a man, an employee working in one of the towers, running down the stairs to get to the bottom and outside as quickly as possible.  As he and others are going down the stairways, the firemen are racing UP, all the while telling everyone to get out as fast as possible because the buildings were structurally compromised. Nevertheless and unbelievably, these firemen continued their upward climb to try to save as many people as possible.  Chilling.

Additionally, the valor and sacrifice of the NYFD on 9/11, who went way over and above their call of duty, bring home the reprehensible recent actions of the Wisconsin governor and legislature to deprive public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

Besides his dedication to worthwhile causes, it is also important to note that Paxton puts much time and effort into helping out young folk singers; his generosity goes way beyond his own career promotion.  I can personally vouch for his larger interest of nurturing new talent, as he invited my daughter Maribel to join him onstage during one of his concerts to sing her new, updated lyrics to his standard, “Daily News”.

Thank you, Tom Paxton, for your life-long pursuit of justice, peace, love and children.  You have had a major hand in elevating American folk music to the same high art form and lasting tradition that gospel and jazz occupy.  Your songs are the embodiment of reason and relevance.  Your activism is admirable, yet your gentleness is also your trademark.  Your use of satire and humor to help offset the seemingly helplessness and hopelessness of our daily tribulations is uplifting and healing.  You are a wonder to behold.  You are truly America’s troubadour.

And yes, Mr. Paxton: my all-time favorite folksong is also “Shenandoah”.

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3 Responses to “Yo Mama’s Tribute to Tom Paxton, America’s Troubadour”

  1. Patricia perle Says:

    Truly a fantastic evening! Tom Paxton is a American Treasure. So enjoyed reading your blog and am now busy downloading songs.

  2. mum of all trades Says:

    I saw Tom in Belfast on Saturday past, such a great night. My children love his songs too.

    • yomamaforobama Says:

      Thanks for your comment. And so true: my children were raised on Tom Paxton’s songs. We could have done a lot worse, right?

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