Maine’s Folk Legend
Noel Paul Stookey has made his home in eastern Maine for decades, so while he’s best known across the country as the Paul from iconic folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, to Mainers, he’s just Noel. Late last year he released “summerfallwinterspring,” a four-song EP of new songs — two explicitly political (“I Will Stand” and “Impeachable”) and two personal and sweet-natured (“Somethin’ Special” and a cover of the timeless ballad “Moon River”).
Stookey recently spoke to Bangor Metro about the personal, the political, and using his fame as a musician to help people in the state where he’s lived for the past 30 years.
You have a long history of responding musically to the political climate. Compared to other charged eras in American history, how does this one feel? It’s almost too big to wrap my arms around. I do sort of feel more helpless, because the issues are so much more numerous. In 1963, it was pretty easy to focus on one thing — the inequity in our society. But then the realization went beyond African Americans, to include all types of racial discrimination, and economic equality. And now, everything seems to be collapsing — environmental concerns, immigration, health care, and so on. That’s why a song like “I Will Stand” addresses all of those things. There isn’t a day that goes by that something in that song isn’t addressed.
Tell me about this Facebook rant you set to music. Have you ever done that before? I’m a cathartic writer. You’re often looking for the right word, or a phrase will catch you, and it goes from there. This satisfied a desire on my part to say a lot of things… As Mary would always say: “Noel, there’s a thin line between compromise and accomplice.” That figures prominently into it.
As someone that’s lived in Maine for all these years, you are really enmeshed in the community. Are you able to separate Noel the citizen from Noel the famous musician? How do you manage to play all these benefit concerts for all these causes without getting overwhelmed? I’m very aware of trading on my fame. I know it’s there, and I have to deal with it. But, I think for me, like anyone that decides at the end of the year who to donate to or volunteer for, I decide where I can help and how I can help. And it helps that I have an extra gift I can put in the stocking, and that’s my music. I also think what I do has a lot more impact when the tune aligns with the cause — it feels authentic. I’m so fortunate to have a platform that I inherited from giants like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie… and, let’s face it, I’m probably not going to be approached by the NRA to do a benefit.
What’s on your horizon for 2018? What are you working on? Well, in 2018 I’ll be working on and putting out a holiday album. I’ve never done a holiday album, and I’m expecting that to come out in the fall. I’ve got eight songs written, and I’m holding the door open to see if another four will fall into place … my door is always open.