In 1961 the East German government started work on the Berlin Wall. Not long afterward The Chad Mitchell Trio recorded their first album. Remember The Chad Mitchell Trio? The Mitchell Trio? Maybe this will help. When namesake-tenor Chad Mitchell left the group, his replacement was another blond tenor, Henry John Deutschendorf Jr. You probably know him as John Denver.
The connection between the trio and the Berlin Wall began when the original group recorded a song on that first album called “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.” It was a pleasant little waltz about a dream in which the people of the world agreed to stop fighting. There was a room filled with men signing papers saying they would fight no more. Copies of the papers were made and sent around the world. The streets were filled with people, dancing with joy as they piled guns, swords and uniforms never to be used again. It was a lovely ditty with a joyous, if unlikely, story to tell and I loved it. Too bad it was so far fetched. It was more than twenty years before I heard it again.
During the seventies, like the rest of the world, I forgot about that simple tune. We were all far too busy with Viet Nam, Watergate and the gasoline crisis. It wasn’t until 1981, while glancing through a songbook on a friend’s piano, that I ran across that dream again. It was a bittersweet reunion. The dream was at once more distant and yet somehow more believable than before. I tried to sing it that day but could not. I didn’t know how to sing and cry at the same time.
On November 9, 1989 the East German government lifted the ban on travel to the West and that began a flood of humanity that swept through the wall for the first time in twenty-eight years. Late on the evening of the 10th I watched a television special, live from the wall. At the end of the broadcast, as the credits rolled, I saw a group of East German school children. Their teacher had taken them on a field trip just across the wall, just to be there, just because they finally could. There they were, a couple of dozen of them, whose parents were themselves children when the wall was begun, and they were singing in German. I didn’t understand the words but it didn’t matter; I recognized the tune. I began singing with them, “Last night I had the strangest dream I never had before. I dreamed the world had all agree to put an end to war….” That’s as far as I could go. I never did learn to sing and cry at the same time.
Listen to the Chad Mitchel Trio with John Denver at their 1987 reunion concert on PBS here.