Throughout the past year, Mary Chapin Carpenter has spent much of her time writing songs for a new album she plans to record early next year. The as-yet-untitled LP, which reunites her with producer Ethan Johns (2018’s Sometimes Just the Sky), is preceded by the premiere of Carpenter’s “Our Man Walter Cronkite.” The somber, reflective tune is accompanied by a just-released video, directed by Aaron Farrington and featuring archival footage of some of the most significant events and newsmakers from the past half-century, including civil rights marches, the Beatles’ arrival in America, and the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“Where are the eyes of the world? They’ve always been able to see you/Why did you give up and turn away at the moment that so many need you,” she sings in the song’s affecting second verse, a rumination on modern times with footage of fenced-in children, white nationalist protesters, and a Trump rally accompanying the lines, “Everything’s different but nothing much changes.”
Like many Americans of the baby-boomer generation, who marveled at the events as they happened decades ago, Carpenter found herself last summer revisiting documentaries, podcasts, and other commemorations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in July 1969. Unlike the present-day 24-hour news cycle across a wide spectrum of cable and streaming news outlets, the events of the time were mainly limited to grainy black-and-white footage aired on the three major broadcast networks, with CBS News coverage entrusted mainly to longtime anchor Walter Cronkite.
Cronkite was a voice of such calm yet authoritative reflection during two of the country’s most turbulent decades that the results of a 1972 poll would brand him “the most trusted man in America.” His ability to mirror the nation’s collective thoughts honestly, without drawing attention away from the story itself, was witnessed in his afternoon news-bulletin confirmation of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy as well as in the childlike wonder with which he witnessed the Apollo 11 landing six years later, taking off his glasses and exhaling with joyous relief and the simple, yet universal utterance of “Ohhh, boy,” as the Eagle touched down on the lunar surface. For Carpenter, Cronkite is a symbol of something that has perhaps been forever lost to the march of time.
“The song is less about an iconic newsman and his seminal broadcast of the Apollo moon landing and more about the mysterious passing of time,” Carpenter tells Rolling Stone Country. “Revisiting the social upheaval of the late Sixties in America through the lens of the present makes one question how much progress have we really made to better our society…Walter Cronkite remains a symbol of truth, trust, and integrity, and it’s very hard to find someone in our present day that collectively we can lean on in that way.”
Mary Chapin Carpenter is currently on tour with Shawn Colvin, with dates in Arizona and California this coming weekend. Other west coast dates will follow through mid-December.