Interview With Peter Yarrow, Author of 'I'm in Love With a Big Blue Frog'
- When the song first came out in 1967, the Big Blue Frog represented African Americans. What is its renewed relevance today?
- Peter: I was presenting to a school in Newtown, CT, to bring a community together with a concert of caring and healing ... I said, "Who are the big blue frogs of today?" Somebody raised their hand and said, "The immigrants that are not wanted"... "lesbians and gays"... And then I said, "Are there some religions that are not accepted?" And we got to Muslims. So [kids] may not have the Big Blue Frog of African Americans, but what we do have is an ongoing issue of acceptance here that is fundamental to the whole Newtown situation.
Because if kids grow up with their own peers pushing them away and saying "You can't sit at this lunch table, you can't play with us, you're different, you're stupid, you're gay, you're lazy," whatever... What we have is this very fragmented society with enormous amounts of mean-spirited bullying that causes kids to commit suicide, injure other children, to go into that cycle of retribution that is so involved in these killings. And a society itself loses its heart. We are, at this point, in a crisis of the heart in this country with so much greed.
- And how can 'Big Blue Frog' help?
- Peter: 'I'm in Love With a Big Blue Frog' is not just about civil rights. It's about acceptance amongst all of us -- there is no more pressing issue before us today than that. This book and song, which will be available free to any educator that wants to download it from our site, www.operationrespect.org, as well as over 50 other songs, will be a tool for teaching our kids before they learn to fear and hate others. So we can get out of this crisis of mean-spiritedness that is so crucial in our world today. Not just in the U.S., but elsewhere.
- The way we consume literature, music and other media is rapidly changing due to technology. Are we doomed to becoming screen zombies?
- Peter: Well, if you look at 'Big Blue Frog' you know you can't replace this with an electronic version. You need to touch it, look at it, listen to the CD. But you can't put the genie back in the bottle.
What we have to do is find ways to utilize the really positive aspects of the internet. There's a cry against kids not talking to each other, but texting each other. But we don't know whether it engages them, creates a better sense of community or not. We're going to have to study this. But I do think that we need to value the intimacy of moments of connection. Whether it's over the dinner table, or talking face to face... What's important is that what you're feeling is relationship. Like a march on Washington, or people gathering together in Newtown to hold each other, cry together, love each other. There's no digital way to accomplish that. So we need to make a balance.
But we'd be foolish not to understand that there are great virtues to the existence of the digital world that need to be understood and plumbed and studied so we take advantage of them. It's our task to do these things and to do it with care and an open mind.
- Your organization, Operation Respect, aims to create safe, respectful learning environments for kids. How are you using music to do that, and, in effect, change the world?
- Peter: We are in 22,000 schools. In the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, we're now in 54 schools and we'll be in 400 by the end of the year. We're also working with the U.S. Embassy and the Peace Corps in Ukraine. We're in Croatia, South Africa, Hong Kong... This is the legacy of Peter, Paul and Mary. This is the legacy of songs like 'Blowin' in the Wind', which is a very emotional, serious treatment of the issue. And 'If I Had a Hammer.' But 'I'm in Love With a Big Blue Frog' is a whimsical interpretation that's acceptable, understandable, and embracing of these things that children can understand. Which is where we need to place our bets and put our energies.
- The entertainment business has changed so much. It's hard to rise above the clutter and call of money. Any advice for creative people to get their voices heard?
- Peter: One of the things that has changed is the democratization of opportunity and information. If you didn't have a record contract in years back, you had no opportunity to make a record and get it out there. Now anybody can do it. For instance, with the monopoly that pretty much exists with record companies, we've put out, to a large degree, mediocre music rather than finding the next Bob Dylan... or The Beatles. But through the internet you can have those kinds of materials for people who want music of conscience. And there will be a mechanism whereby these dinosaurs, the record companies that are focused on mediocrity and only sales, will continue what they're doing, but there will be a commitment to new artists, who are singing songs of consciousness and heart. And the net will provide that.
Peter Yarrow is a singer, writer, political activist and founding member of folk band, Peter, Paul and Mary. He also founded Operation Respect, dedicated to creating compassionate, creative learning environments.
Currently, you can meet Peter and pick up a signed copy of 'I'm in Love With a Big Blue Bus,' on his cross-country book tour. Next stop: Los Angeles on Sunday, March 3, 1PM at Barnes & Noble/The Grove. Or, find a bookstore near you.