Artist: Noel Paul Stookey
Hometown: Blue Hill, Maine
Latest album: Just Causes
Personal nicknames: Paul of Peter, Paul & Mary
What’s your favorite memory from being on stage?
Standing at the Lincoln Memorial with Peter Yarrow, Mary Travers, and 250,000 others listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the 1963 March on Washington. As Mary said that day, “…we are watching history.”
What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to be a musician?
Was there ever a “first moment?” Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember though I never seriously thought I would earn a living as a “professional.” I was attracted to the medium as a form of expression and never as commerce.
What rituals do you have, either in the studio or before a show?
Now THAT’s an interesting question! I always try to have beer and coffee backstage at a performance, because (borrowing a page from Alice in Wonderland‘s toadstool discipline), I will have a sip of beer if I’m jittery or wound too tight from all the coffee I’ve consumed during soundcheck OR a cup of coffee if the beer I’ve sipped has caused me to relax so much that I’ve lost focus. I suppose it’s a self-medication of sorts.
How often do you hide behind a character in a song or use “you” when it’s actually “me”?
Songwriters deal in metaphors. I don’t “hide” behind a character as much as employ characters to present different perspectives in what is often an invented situation — witness “The Connection,” a song that uses four scenes to reveal a relationship between drug use in the USA and the funding of the Taliban terrorist group, or “Jean Claude,” a story song questioning the meaning of freedom for an 83-year-old French man who, as a teenager, had his best friend taken away to a Nazi concentration camp.
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc — inform your music?
I’m a folkie. All it takes is a circumstance; a piece of life revealed in real time to become inspiration for a song. We write for the betterment of the human condition. And, if that occasionally is termed “art,” then so be it.
Photo credit: Kevin Mazur