I loved cleaning up the Hudson with you and the kids from Fieldston Outdoors. I felt your passion and presence as larger then life then, and cleaned with my campers believing with all my might that if you knew we could make a difference then we most certainly could. RIP PETE SEEGER
FROM MY DEAR FRIEND & MENTOR ~ THE LEGACY OF ONE OF HIS:
When I awoke this morning my wife Lilia looked at me and simply said, “Pete died”. I knew which Pete she meant. Pete Seeger.
I immediately went to my writing table in the kitchen and wrote this poem.
I hope it is something that will give you a sense of how extraordinary this person was.
Sadly because it was written on a computer you cannot see the tear stains that landed on the keyboard as I wrote this.
Lewis Harrison – Writer and Teacher
The Harrison Center for Personal Development
* * * * *
Pete Seeger has left the building,
But he still lives.
More than lives, he looms over us.
He was just a simple musician,
A folk singer and a banjo player with a spirit so large,
A spirit vibrant and influential
that his being would dwarf Mount Rushmore,
If a spirit it could be carved in stone.
He was a working man,
From religious dissenter colonial stock,
He dipped his toes into Harvard,
For the blink of an eye,
Then walked, hitchhiked, and freight-trained,
Singing with Woody Guthrie through the American landscape,
and the American Drama,
for seven decades.
He usually sat in the last row,
Avoiding the spotlight,
Intentionally directing it onto others.
Even so we always sensed that he was back there somewhere,
strong and, smiling, with a deep stubbornness,
Doing what needed to be done.
His stubbornness was driven by an authentic righteousness and sense of the “good”.
With Woody Guthrie,
From union hall to union hall,
Singing for dignity,
And for racial justice, human rights, fairness and a living wage.
He rescued the five string banjo from obscurity,
Filled small halls with the Almanac Singers,
Then Carnegie Hall with the Weavers,
He left the Weavers it is said because he refused to do an add for a cigarette company.
Pete Seeger was a Rock star before Rockn’Roll even had a name,
He liked rock n roll,
They said he was annoyed when Dylan went electric,
Pete said he didn’t care,
“I just wanted to be able to hear the lyrics.”
They certainly heard his,
All the way into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
He was the most spiritual of human beings,
But he didn’t waste his time pontificating,
about God, not-God etc.
Pete was spiritual in the best sense of the “Word”,
He weaved love for others,
And his activism with his music,
Then emblazoned on his banjo the phrase,
“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”
Pete was stubborn in all the best meanings of the word.
For what was right he would not back down.
When a tsunami, a hurricane, a volcano,
An earthquake, of evil and bad intentions was thrown at him,
Pete with the guidance and support of his wife, Toshi,
stood unwavering for what he knew to be just.
He knew he would continue to stand for what was just,
Even if he was the last man standing.
He fought tyranny with his art and music during World War II,
and throughout his life served as a beacon for what is right in the world.
He was investigated for sedition,
Harassed by the FBI and CIA,
Picketed and jailed.
And he was subpoened by Joe MacCarthy’s cult,
And asked his who his friends and fellow travelers were?
He responded with unwavering constitutional clarity
and told them – none of your business
and and none of your business .
They convicted him of contempt of congress,
and told him to pack his bags – he was going to jail.
Then they blacklisted him.
He never got to jail, at least not for this. (He was arrested as needed to support what was “right”).
So he went back on the road,
Singing to thousands of young children,
In camps and conferences,
Here and there.
For the Left for what was right,
And left of center as well.
These children grew up to be;
Activists, pioneers, environmentalists and visionaries,
He through them also completely changed American society in the 60s and onward
Eventually the Supreme Court said he was right
And congress was wrong.
That they were in contempt of the constitution as he had said
That he could name or not name any darn names he pleased.
Pete “outlived the bastards” to quote Bruce at Pete’s Party.
Most of those politicians are long forgotten,
In the dustbin of history.
Pete played on,
Walking and singing and activating the best in us.
Eventually he walked across the stage at the Kennedy Center,
Receiving the Presidential Medal of Honor.
Pete refitted the old negro spiritual, “We Will Overcome”,
Changing the “will” to “shall“ because it “fit the mouth better”.
It became the anthem of the civil rights movement and a symbol of a seminal moment in American History
Young un’s? When you Wiki, or Google, Leadbelly, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, or any other great cultural and musical influencers
Look at the footnote and in the background,
There is a good chance you will see Pete Seeger smiling
Today’s passing of Pete is the day the music lived.
Remember the day the music died?
Bye Bye Miss “American Pie”.
Even Madonna sang it.
Don MccClean wrote it.
Don McClean’s friend and mentor? Pete Seeger.
Integrity? Pete’s picture should be in the dictionary next to the word.
He took the old African folksong “Mbube”
Helped “Turn, Turn Turn” it into The Lion Sleep’s Tonight”
and reweaved it for American ears with the Weavers.
When he learned that it had been written by
Solomon Popoli Linda a songwriter in Africa,
A man that was still living,
Pete made sure the man received credit for the song
Sent him a check from his own pocket,
You might think all this is enough for one life?
One day Pete and Toshi decided they didn’t like the way the Hudson River looked or smelled.
Here Toshi and modern “Moses” Seeger”,
Led us across our own River Jordan to the Sloop Clearwater,
From the mountaintop in Beacon, N.Y,
Pete saw another promised land,
Respect for nature.
Many festivals and many projects came out of Toshi’s and Pete’s vision.
They both lived to see the continually unfolding miracle that is today’s Hudson River.
So he made it through 90 years and more,
And there was a big 90th birthday party at Madison Square Garden for him.
His musical children, grandchildren and great grandchildren sang his songs to the world,
And there he was in the background smiling and singing.
And this was the Pete we thought we knew.
During this time a friend of mind was given the honor
of going through and organizing the unknown Seeger,
Hundreds of songs Pete had kept in storage
Songs he had never published nor even sung in public.
Back in the 1960s they banned him from TV’s Hootenany,
But in 2011 he was walking through the streets of Manhattan,
Cane in hand with their children and grandchildren
Leading an Occupy Movement protest on Wall Street.
The Police shaked his hand and thanked him
Music and activism. Activism and music.
This was the rhythm and harmony of his life.
“How Can I Keep From Singing?”
This was his autobiography.
This is what he did,
This was who he was.
This book changed my life. The title says it all.
Pete Seeger was “wary of great leaders”,
He created a wave of small leaders, by being Pete.
He didn’t teach, he sang and lived.
All these small leaders changed
And continue to change the world.
This was reflected in his concert rule “The audience must sing.”
The great Zen Masters teach,
To live life fully is to “Chop Wood and Carry Water.”
His grandson says that Pete was chopping wood just ten days ago.
Peter Seeger understood what needed to be done
When his Harvard professor told him,
“You can observe but you cannot do”
Pete understood his destiny,
he needed to leave Harvard.
And hop onto a railway car.
I met Pete Seeger twice.
Once I was introduced to him as an activist at a folk festival,
It was like meeting a “Beatle” for me,
More than meeting a Beatle.
I asked for his autograph and a for a “photo-Op”.
He smiled at me, laughed and said “Oh come on!”
I should have known better.
About a year later,
I was at the Ecofest Festival in Riverside Park in NYC,
The first musician came on the stage at 8:00 am.
There were a few people milling around doing set up and such.
And a scattering of people in the audience,
Maybe twenty people spread among two hundred seats.
There in the last seat in the last row, focused on the music,
Supporting the music,
Loving the music and the musician was Pete Seeger.
Pete! Thanks for the many gifts you gave us.
For the gifts you gave us,
So long. It’s been good to know ya,
But I know you had to be rolling along.