My Signature Song: 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)' Kate Lynnes of Albuquerque, N.M., shares her "signature song," "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" by Marvin Gaye, which inspired her to become an environmental consultant.
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My Signature Song: 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)'

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My Signature Song: 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)'

My Signature Song: 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)'

My Signature Song: 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/760780864/760780865" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Kate Lynnes of Albuquerque, N.M., shares her "signature song," "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" by Marvin Gaye, which inspired her to become an environmental consultant.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A signature song can be one that spurs you through a tough day or lifts you up in tough times. A signature song can also set you on your life's work. That's the case for Kate Lynnes of Albuquerque, N.M., and her song, Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)."

KATE LYNNES: It was like a call to action. It's like hey, folks, we're killing our planet. Get off your you-know-what, and do something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)")

MARVIN GAYE: (Singing) Woah, oh, mercy, mercy me.

SIMON: She grew up in Muskegon, Mich., alongside White Lake and Lake Michigan. There was also lots of heavy industry in town, but she says she didn't notice that as a child.

LYNNES: And it was just absolutely beautiful. We'd play on the beach. We'd go swimming. We'd go fishing. We'd go sailing. And then my dad had a friend who had a Piper Cub, and we went up and flew over the lake. And looking down, I could see these plumes of contamination in the water coming from a DuPont plant and a Hooker Chemical plant and this big tannery.

And all of a sudden, this beautiful lake turned into something that was polluted and damaged and scary. And I just was - just startled, and I could never forget that image.

SIMON: A few years later in the summer of 1971...

LYNNES: I was washing dishes. And I had the radio on, and that song came on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)")

GAYE: (Singing) Where did all the blue skies go? Poison is the...

LYNNES: And I shut the water off, and I just stood there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)")

GAYE: (Singing) Woah, mercy, mercy me.

LYNNES: You know, he's talking about air pollution and overcrowding and, you know, how much more abuse from man can she stand is one of the last lines in the song. And it just hit me. It's like, we're killing our planet. It's similar to what, you know, folks - the young folks are thinking today about climate change. That's the revelation that I had. That song brought it all together. All the thoughts that started in my 8-year-old brain were crystallized in these amazing lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)")

GAYE: (Singing) Radiation underground and in the sky. Animals and birds who live nearby are dying.

GAYE: Kate Lynnes started an ecology club at her school. She went to college, became a civil engineer, became an environmental consultant helping to clean up hazardous waste and superfund sites. Her work eventually brought her back to Michigan.

LYNNES: And frankly, it's kind of frightening to realize that your parent's house was built on contaminated foundry fill, and you end up cleaning up the foundry that generated the fill that your parent's house was built on. But yeah, I actually helped clean up some sites in Muskegon and make a difference when I grew up. So it does kind of come full circle.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)")

GAYE: (Singing) Oh, oh, no.

LYNNES: I've been doing this kind of cleanup work for 35 years. And when I have a day where I'm starting to wonder why do I still do this - because we all have frustrating days at work, right? - I play that song, and I sing along at the top of my lungs in my car. And I go that's why I still do this, because I'm making the planet better. And that is what I've always wanted to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)")

SIMON: Kate Lynnes of Albuquerque, N.M., sharing her signature song, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," by Marvin Gaye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY MERCY ME (THE ECOLOGY)")

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Correction Sept. 14, 2019

A previous introduction to this story misspelled Kate Lynnes' last name as Lyness.