Oct 2, 2019
A Moment Of Pete: This Banjo Surrounds Hate And Forces It To Surrender
Oh, we are getting some lovely Pete Seeger stories from you fine folks in response to our farewell post this morning; we got book recommendations (How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger and Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singalong Memoir) and stories and song requests. Here are a few of them!
First up, here is Pete in 1970 on the Johnny Cash Show, teaching the young fellow in black a thing or two about the folk song:
And how about a story, from reader “Justin”:
My favorite Pete Seeger story comes from the documentary Power of Song. It’s the 70’s and Pete’s living on the Hudson River, at the time one of the most polluted waterways in the country if not the world. Pete decides he wants to clean it so his plan is to build a 70 foot schooner to sail up and down the river. People will come, he imagines, to see the ship then notice how polluted the water is and be so delighted by the boat that they decide to band together to clean the river up.
It is such a naive and optimistic plan with no hope of ever succeeding in a real world of cynical, pragmatic people. But goddamnit if that wasn’t exactly what happened. The Hudson is now a much cleaner river because of it.
Finally, if I may indulge in some sentimentality of my own, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was the standard lullaby my dad sang me and is now what I sing to my own daughters. Make sure they grow up with a well developed sense of loss.
Indeed. And so of course, the song, with Pete, Arlo Guthrie, and Tao Rodríguez-Seeger:
And how about one more story? From “J.K.”:
I was with my then best friend/girlfriend/future first wife (unbeknownst to me) at the Ravinia festival grounds outside of Chicago, for an Arlo Guthrie/Pete Seeger concert. As a good little folkie and enthusiastic singer, I was happy, relaxed, and slightly drunk — on the atmosphere, of course.
If I remember rightly, Steve Goodman had just passed, and in his honor, Seeger and Guthrie (the younger) sang “City of New Orleans”. I have heard that song many times of course, as a train fan, a sentimentalist, and as a Chicagoan of a certain type, so it already had a place in my heart. On the other hand, I had heard it many times, so I was just happily singing along with the rest of the crowd (this IS folk music, dammit, and we is folk!). But when Seeger sang the stanza “…and the sons of Pullman porters, and the sons of engineers, ride their father’s magic carpet made of steel..” my voice choked, and I broke out crying, weeping like the Grand Coulee dam itself had burst.
Thank you, Pete, for the clarity of your voice, cutting through our defenses and arrowing into our hearts with the truth. In that moment, Seeger’s voice connected me in time to that past, to the sacrifices and work and passion of those earlier generations, and not incidentally I think helped me come to terms with my own father’s death some years earlier.
Dammit, it still chokes me up. And now he’s gone. Thanks, Pete, for the music and the passion and if we are not TOOOOO STOOPID and complacent, for the wake-up calls.
And for you, the only video we could find of Arlo and Pete singing “City of New Orleans,” at the 2012 Clearwater Music Festival. First line is cut off, but it’s pretty decent amateur video:
Have a Pete Seeger story? Email doktorzoom at wonkette dot com and we may just do another Moment of Pete later today.