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devil duck

Pete Seeger

I first heard of Pete Seeger when he made a guest appearance on "Sesame Street".  My parents were visibly startled: "I thought he refused to appear on television" or something like that; they told me the story of the blacklist.  It must have been no later than 1972, because my parents were seldom in the same room after 1972.

Some time in the 1970's, my mother took me and my brother to see the annual Pete-and-Arlo show at Wolf Trap, outside Washington, DC.  We were in the cheap seats, on a picnic blanket on the lawn, but we had no trouble hearing, and between the stellar performers and the adoring audience, it was a great show.  Eleven encores.  Or maybe that was the second time we saw them at Wolf Trap... or maybe the third....

I grew up, of course, with songs like "If I Had a Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" (which I learned in both English and German).  I heard more stories about the Weavers, the blacklist, and HUAC from my mother's boyfriend Dick (who played banjo, IIRC) some time around 1977.

The last time I "encountered" Pete Seeger was a New York City concert thrown in honor of him at 89 his 80-somethingth birthday, featuring Pete's grandson Tao, Arlo, one or more of Peter, Paul, and Mary, and a bunch of other folk luminaries.  Pete was unable to get to the concert, having come down with a cold, but Tao stood on stage, called him on his cell phone, and had the audience sing "Happy Birthday" to him. [ETA: this is probably a reconstructed memory, not a real one, since as shalmestere points out, the concert was in January, and his birthday was in May.  Tao did stand on stage, call Pete on his cell phone, and have the audience say or sing something, but I don't remember what.]

I'm not sure when or where I last saw Pete Seeger on stage, but I remember thinking "he has no voice left, he's doing almost none of the singing, and he STILL has the audience in the palm of his hand."  A Pete Seeger performance was not about Pete Seeger; it was about the audience, with Pete as a sort of instigator.  And when he wasn't performing, he was still instigating: getting people to seek peaceful solutions to problems, getting people to clean up messes, getting people to hold the powerful accountable, getting people to make the world a better place, or just getting people to play banjo.

As osewalrus put it, his death is not a tragedy: he lived to 94, doing the things he loved, making people happy, and making the world a better place, and he was reasonably healthy and mentally alert until the last few days.  Few of us could complain about that.

My fellow Americans, as long as this country has patriots like Pete Seeger, who care passionately about peace, justice, and leaving our children a better world than we were given, the state of our Union will be strong.

"How do I know my youth is all spent?
My get-up-and-go has got up and went.
But in spite of it all, I'm able to grin
And think of the places my get-up has been."


Since you're not on FB to read it...

Irish/American folk singer Fiona Molloy told about meeting Pete at a music festival. She was walking past one of the unused stages and there was an older man sitting in front of the stage, surrounded by children and their parents, leading a sing-along, teaching them the music. He looked up as she approached, saw the recognition in her eyes, and gave a tiny nod "no." He didn't want anyone to know who he was. He just wanted to enjoy an afternoon teaching kids some songs.
I remember hearing this song when he gave a concert at Drew University in the early '60's. It was the one time I heard him in person, and the one song which has lingered...

Thanks for posting the chorus, and for the memories and the education. (I read the entire transcript of his go-around with the House Un-American Activities Committee.) Would that I could be so brave!

And Isabeau, what a delightful story! Sounds like the man.