Plain Profundities

Folk singer-songwriter Richard Shindell is a trained observer. He has just finished playing in a "Study War No More" roundtable at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in Hillsdale, New York. Seated in the grass between two parked cars at the end of a sparkling sunny day, he spoke about songwriting, faith, and why not every folk song about war should be an "anthem."

As he spoke, going through a few cigarettes, one could almost imagine the characters from his songs listening attentively. There would be a tire-changing nun over here, a nasty immigration officer over there, Mary Magdalene over there, an angry abandoned lover just yonder. But with his three children off to buy snacks and play on the hillside, the 43-year-old artist smiles self-deprecatingly as he reflects on the workshop, which included folk legends Holly Near, the Kennedys, Tracy Grammer, and Tom Paxton.

"I was like, ‘God, what am I doing here?' I just felt like an alien," he said, because his songs are less about concepts like freedom or peace or cooperation and more about people like war widows, army couriers, and young frightened soldiers. Sitting up there on stage comparing himself to the others, many of whom got excited ovations and prompted the formation of a "human peace sign" on the hill, Shindell realized he's simply a different type of songwriter.

"In a way I felt like, ‘Gee, I should write some more rousing anti-war songs that will make people want to beat their swords into plowshares and start a revolution.' And I wish I could. I really do. But I'm just not good at it. And that's fine. There are people who are better at it than I am."

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2003
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