Well may the world go,
The world go, the world go,
Well may the world go,
When I’m far away.
And, now, Pete Seeger is far away. Or maybe not.
So much has been written and said of this great singer and activist – I can hardly add much to the beautiful tributes of others. I grew up with Pete’s music as a background to my childhood – my mother was an activist, and we went to rallies and protest marches, and more often than not, we’d all be singing Pete’s songs. I vividly remember going to at least two of his concerts when he came to Palo Alto – in the theater at Foothills College. I found this, which exactly describes my experience:
“I have friends who still recall, with misty eyes, Seeger performances they attended as children, as teenagers or as college students.
The last thing Seeger wants from an audience is rapt silence; he is famous for dividing audiences up, teaching them the choruses to the songs and getting them to join in–sometimes in three- or four-part harmony. “My main purpose is to get a crowd singing,” he has often said.” – Tai Moses (http://www.metroactive.com/)
And, he did get everyone singing.
I have a number of recordings of Pete Seeger, and of the Weavers – the quartet he founded in 1948 with Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman and Ronnie Gilbert). I always get “misty eyes” when I hear any of his live recordings where he gets the whole crowd singing together. There is something so powerful about a huge hall (or even a small room) of people, especially strangers with no previous connection, who all start singing together. It’s a shared experience that immediately creates community. I think if we could get congress singing in harmony – led by Pete – they’d surely find a way to solve our nation’s problems!
I’ve sung Pete’s songs with my mother, and with my sister. With my daughter, and now with my sons. Pete’s songs have to be shared, they’re not for solo singing.
In combing the net for writings about Pete Seeger, I came across this story, published in the New Yorker, April 17, 2006, written by Alec Wilkinson. This passage is the last paragraph of the story, titled THE PROTEST SINGER, Pete Seeger and American folk music:
Here is a story told to me lately by a man named John Cronin, who is the director of the Pace Academy for the Environment, at Pace University. Cronin has known Seeger for thirty years. “About two winters ago, on Route 9 outside Beacon, one winter day, it was freezing—rainy and slushy, a miserable winter day—the war in Iraq is just heating up and the country’s in a poor mood,” Cronin said. “I’m driving north, and on the other side of the road I see from the back a tall, slim figure in a hood and coat. I’m looking, and I can tell it’s Pete, He’s standing there all by himself, and he’s holding up a big piece of cardboard that clearly has something written on it. Cars and trucks are going by him. He’s getting wet. He’s holding the homemade sign above his head—he’s very tall, and his chin is raised the way he does when he sings—and he’s turning the sign in a semicircle, so that the drivers can see it as they pass, and some people are honking and waving at him, and some people are giving him the finger. He’s eighty-four years old. I know he’s got some purpose, of course, but I don’t know what it is. What struck me is that, whatever his intentions are, and obviously he wants people to notice what he’s doing, he wants to make an impression—anyway, whatever they are, he doesn’t call the newspapers and say, ‘I’m Pete Seeger, here’s what I’m going to do.’ He doesn’t cultivate publicity. That isn’t what he does. He’s far more modest than that. He would never make a fuss. He’s just standing out there in the cold and the sleet like a scarecrow. I go a little bit down the road, so that I can turn and come back, and when I get him in view again, this solitary and elderly figure, I see that what he’s written on the sign is ‘Peace.’”
Rest in peace, Pete. And may we all sing your songs in peace, harmony and good will for many, many years to come.