Her book on Samoan adolescents, Coming of Age in Samoa became trie
first anthropological best seller. It fixed the idea that "culture determines
personality" in the public mind.
Dr. Mead was a unique citizen of the world who spoke and wrote with
disarming honesty on subjects as varied as sex roles and gender differences
to the decriminalization of marijuana possession. But it is her ideas on
peace and disarmament that we wish to share with our readers: a transcript
of the speech she gave to the 1977 National Women's Conference.
Malvina Reynolds, who began her music career in her fifties, was also
concerned with ideas of peace. The songs she wrote for the peace movement were recorded by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and other artists. Reynolds
was as outspoken in her music as Mead in her writings. "What Have They
Done To The Rain" was her protest against nuclear testing.
While the death of these two women makes orphans of us all, it is their
work and their words we wish to celebrate. editors.
by Thelma Meltzer
Don't play that closing chord for me,
I'll bless the grounds from whence I
I'll make some daisy shine,
Some grass grow green,
And leave a sneaky dandelion
To decorate the scene.
Malvina Reynolds—singer, poet, philosopher and political activist—composed
these lines for No Closing Chord, an unpublished song which was discovered in a
file after her death. These words could be
her epitaph. Malvina Reynolds died of
kidney failure last March 17 in Berkeley,
but her songs, like "sneaky dandelions,"
remain to brighten our scene still.
Malvina was born in San Francisco
on August 26, 1900. On her 22nd birthday, the suffrage amendment became part
of the Constitution. Her songwriting
career began in her fifties. We hear her
words in the songs of Joan Baez, Pete
Seeger, Harry Belafonte and others, but
it wasn't until 10 years ago that Malvina
sang her own songs in public.
Malvina confronted life with complete
honesty and courage, and these qualities
are the backbone of her songs. She writes
about her feelings for the human condition, her love of people, her abhorrence
of war, the misuse of power by the
powerful, and her interest in the environment. She once wrote a song about the
people of British Columbia, Canada, who
were protesting the building of a dam
which would flood their Skagit Valley
and turn it into "a mud pond to run the
Coca Cola coolers in Seattle, USA."
The Sierra Club published several of
her environmental songs in the Survival
Songbook (1971), including The Faucets
Are Dripping, Seventy Miles by Malvina
and Pete Seeger, There'll Come A Time,
The Cement Octopus, and The Day the
Malvina wrote songs against the war—
We Hate to See Them Go, You'll Be A
Man, and Tungsten—and other songs of
social protest. Her Boraxo is about
former Governor Ronald Reagan's response to a member of the Berkeley
Planning Commission who once told
him after an impassioned meeting of the
UC Board of Regents, "The blood of the
people of Berkeley will be on your
"Fine, I'll wash it off with Boraxo,"
replied Reagan, who hosted the Twenty
Mule Team Borax television show during
Malvina's social protest could also be
tempered with humor, as it was in Little
Boxes, the song that first brought her
popular success as a songwriter.
"Little boxes on the hillside, little
boxes made of ticky-tacky; there's a
pink one and a brown one and a blue one
and a yellow one, and they're all made
out of ticky-tacky and they all look just
This song's lilting, nursery-rhyme
rhythm made Little Boxes' penetrating
social comment on the sterility of life
on the hillsides of America not only
palatable but profitable as popular
Malvina's children's songs, too, reveal the gentleness and humor of this
talented woman. Her songbook for
children, published by the Schroder
Music Co. which is headquartered in the
front room of her house in Berkeley,
is titled Cheerful Tunes for Lutes &
Spoons. In her appearances on Sesame
Street she sang from the albums Arti
chokes, Griddlecakes and Funnybugs,
Malvina's own childhood was less
charmed. The daughter of European
emigrant parents, she learned early on
the consequences of expressing unpopular
opinion. Although Malvina was an honors
student, she was denied her high school
diploma because of her parents' outspoken opposition to World War I.
Despite this, she entered U.C. at Berkeley
where her scholastic brilliance brought
her a Phi Beta Kappa pin in her junior
year. She earned a M.A. in English and
some 12 years later a doctorate in
romance philology. (Fifty years later her
high school invited her back, gave her the
long overdue diploma and a public
She worked during the depression and
World War II as a steelworker, tailor (her
father's trade), teacher and newspaperwoman. All her education and these
stored experiences converge in the songs
she wrote. Her concert and music festival
appearances around the world and her
breadth of understanding and compassion for human life have made her
more than just an American folk hero.
In November, 1968, Malvina came to
Houston to perform a benefit concert for
the emerging Pacifica radio station. Inez
Crawford, her good friend and friend of
KPFT, brought this about. Malvina came
with her husband, William "Bud" Reynolds, who had been a fiery union organizer and longtime protester of inequities.
Malvina, Bud and Gus and Inez had become good friends in California. Inez
recalled how Malvina and Bud would have
soup suppers in their home to raise
money for the causes they supported.
The KPFT benefit was the first of Mal
vina's several trips to Houston to perform her songs of social protest.
Her last visit would be for the National
Women's Conference last November. Malvina and her daughter, Nancy Schimmel,
arrived in Houston on the Sunday of the
IWY conference, direct from a concert
engagement in Chicago the night before.
Malvina joined singer Margie Adams arid
Sweet Honey in the Rock, a quartet from
Washington, in an evening and early
morning concert at the Music Hall for
IWY delegates and participants.
The "sneaky dandelions" she left
us in her songs still have the power to
surprise and delight. Her songs are replete with these images of planting and
nourishing and growth.
If you love me, if you love, love, love me,
Plant a rose for me,
And if you think.you'll love me for a
long, long time,
Plant an apple tree.
A letter written to Malvina's daughter
after her death shows that Malvina is
remembered the way she would probably
like all of us to remember her:
The day after her death we quickly
cancelled our plans for a zoo trip-I instead bought an apple tree to plant in our
backyard. The guy at Wesbrae Horticulture told us we were not the first that
day. Far Out! So "Malvina" is bursting
with leaves and birds and new growth in
our yard-a small reminder that well love
her for a long long long time.
-from Sporadic Times
DECEMBER/JANUARY 1979 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH 11