Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

Carol Davidson Baird © May 2006

Words and music by Pete Seeger ©1961 (Renewed)
Fall River Music Inc., All Rights Reserved

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Dr. Stephen Baird, Professor of Pathology at UCSD School of Medicine noticed many years ago that artists have a broader audience than scientists. Entertainment for fun is more popular than using one’s brain for discovery. Judge how many people pay to see Jimmy Buffet and how many pay to listen to a Nobel Prize winner speak about viruses, polymerases and cancer. But what if entertainment and science were combined into one enterprise?

An article by Eric Zorn in the Chicago Tribune, 27 September 2001, got to the essence of folk music with interviews of Peter Seeger and others in the field. Seeger told him, “Singing together lifts our spirits by taking us back. Way back. For thousands of years, people lived together in tribes and villages of 30, 40 or 50 and they all took care of each other. Singing and chanting as one emphasized their unity and shared purpose. The same was true of dancing and worship.” “The essence of folk music is that it is easy to learn and … be sung by anyone, without musical training,” said Rich Warren, host of WFMT-FM’s weekly, long folk-based “The Midnight Special” program. “The repetition, rhyme scheme and chord structure sweep you in and are easy to remember. That’s not true of most other musical forms. To a great extent, singing, especially singing together, fills a basic human need not far down the scale from food, sex and shelter.”

The folk song genre began in order to transmit knowledge and history from generation to generation before the advent of modern communication systems. Then the genre changed into more popular music to express sociological situations and conditions. Folk songs of the 1920’s and 1930’s were able to reflect the sick economy, past and looming wars, social mores and political climates. The 1950’s saw the rise of Rock & Roll, with which a whole generation of the world’s youth identified, even though it evolved from African American folk music and crossed over to the Caucasian population. Yet folk music still reflected the world’s political and sociological climate. In the USA, the 1960’s gave birth to groups singing folk music and Rock & Roll to protest the Viet Nam War, growing government Conservatism, and to reflect the new cultures of Hippies and drugs. The 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s seemed to lose folk musicians due to apathy, death or a youth more interested in itself than social issues. The Reagan Era made selfishness popular and the younger generation – many indulged by their one-time liberal, socially conscious parents – wanted instant gratification and turned to sleazy, lounge-lizard, Disco, and then to a walls of noise variously called Hard Rock, Acid Rock or Heavy Metal. Eventually the sound of Rap music gave those youngsters music of social import but it was more the sounds of disenfranchised segments in U.S. society. Mainstream youth went from Madonna to Brittany Spears. They enjoyed empty music accented by bare bodies and superficial good looks. So where is the music with substance? “Where have all the flowers gone?”

Sure, the Mainly Mozart Festivals and the New York Opera play to appreciative but limited audiences, and many symphonies and musical theaters are teetering between insolvency and demise. Duke Ellington said, “There’s only two kinds of music – good music and bad music.” An obvious clue to the dearth of modern ‘good’ music is the fact that many radio stations are dedicated to the “Oldies.” 1950’s and 60’s musical groups are making a come-back, and are featured on public broadcasting specials. The Rolling Stones are as popular as ever. Many newer musical artists are imitating the successful musicians of the Jazz and Swing Eras.

There used to be folk groups with songs of socio-political import – Peter, Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and even the Smothers Brothers. We had fun with Alan Sherman’s clever and funny parodies, and were put on edge by the satire of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, leading to the music and lyrics of professor Tom Leher, the initial inspiration for Dr. Baird’s song writing. Today, all we have is the semi-funny political satire of Mark Russell and the well-produced political satire of The Capitol Steps. We do have Bruce Springsteen and Bono, but they made their way with screaming girls in popular culture before making a social impact. Where have all the flowers gone? Where’s the song of protest, of social action, of rationality, of dreams for the future in a world at peace?

A new musical genre created by Dr. Stephen Baird embodies the flavor of many previous musical styles, combined with unique lyrics based on rational thought and scientific reasoning. Dr. Baird especially enjoys the irony of juxtaposing simple, basic, folk and gospel music with multi-syllabic scientific terminology and complex philosophical concepts. He hopes to use this music to impart scientifically derived knowledge and rational thinking while winning a war against anti-intellectual, fundamentalist belief systems steeped in narrow mindedness and fanaticism. The disease is darkness. The cure is an infection of universal education. Treating ignorance by humorous entertainment, the patient will not only laugh, but heal the wounds inflicted over time.

If Pete Seeger was right that singing together lifts our spirits, then maybe Scientific Gospel will improve our psyche during this current period of anti-intellectualism and assault on scientific experimentation.

If singing and chanting as one emphasized our unity and shared purpose, then maybe Dr. Baird can bring humanists and rationalists a venue where they can enjoy progressive thoughts in a welcoming atmosphere with other like-minded free thinkers.

If the essence of folk music is that it is easy to learn and can be sung by anyone, without musical training, then Scientific Gospel can be especially challenging – Dr. Baird’s clever, multi-syllabic, and sometimes esoteric and eclectic lyrics demand a lot from his audiences. However, the lyrics will improve any student’s grades in science classes. Baird’s musical compositions are the key to what makes his musical genre appealing to all ages from small children to the very old in our society. The repetition, rhyme scheme and chord structure are simple and easy to remember.

If singing, especially singing together fills a basic human need not far down the scale from food, sex and shelter, then attending a concert by Dr. Stephen Baird and The Opossums of Truth, will offer audiences sustenance, titillation and a home for their rationality.

Dr. Baird’s musical genre is a slowly evolving specialty niche. He and his band perform in many venues, but are most popularly known for their annual Darwin Birthday concerts in San Diego. First and foremost they espouse the brilliance of evolution and natural selection while debunking Intelligent Design as another myth in the long history of religious belief systems. Scientific Gospel is a unique musical genre created by Dr. Baird to impart scientific knowledge, discuss social and political issues, and argue for rational inquiry and thought. Biology, anthropology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, medical science and heroes of science all are worthy and appropriate subjects for Scientific Gospel.

So, where have all the flowers gone? When will they ever learn? The flowers have re-pollinated and the time is now – with Dr. Stephen Baird and Scientific Gospel.