Pete Seeger is Gone, but His Circles of Song Ring On
I was lucky to be a neighbor, friend and occasional accompanist of Pete Seeger for 22 years. (That’s me on the right above, with Steve Stanne and Pete in Beacon, N.Y., in 2010; photo by David Rothenberg.) Here are some reflections reposted from my Dot Earth blog at The New York Times:
Pete Seeger spent his life surrounded by circles of song with varying dimensions.
He often created them himself, putting a hand to his ear as a signal that he expected any audience encircling a stage to drown him out.
Beacon, N.Y., his longtime home town, is like the center of a swirling circular galaxy of music these days, most of it written and sung with a better world in mind and most of it inspired in some way by his example.
I was humbled to be among those who were able to pay Pete a visit over the last several days at New York-Presbyterian Hospital as his heart and body failed at age 94. (He died peacefully last night around 9:30 p.m., family members told me; His wife Toshi died last July.)
When I arrived on Monday afternoon, he was at the center of a healing circle of song once again. My friend Steve Stanne, an environmental educator and masterful musician, led in the singing of Bill Staine’s “River” as the Hudson that Pete for so long worked to restore flowed by, icy and glinting, outside the windows:
Someday when the flowers are blooming still
Someday when the grass is still green
My rolling waters will round the bend
And flow into the open sea
So, here’s to the rainbow that’s followed me here
And here’s to the friends that I know
And here’s to the song that’s within me now
I will sing it wherever I go
River, take me along in your sunshine, sing me a song
Ever moving and winding and free
You rolling old river, you changing old river
Let’s you and me, river, run down to the sea. [Full lyrics]
Here’s Jon Pareles’s fine obituary in The Times. There’s much more that will be said and written — and sung — in coming days about his songwriting and politics, his bubbling humor and hammer-hard determination.
But I wanted to initiate some reflections on Pete’s music and mission, and his extraordinary heart. Only the physical heart gave way last night.
He’s best known, of course, for his use of songs as a shield and weapon, but to get the full Pete Seeger you had to see him sing “Abiyoyo” as he danced on his long pipe-cleaner legs through the children gathered on Little Stony Point, a vest-pocket part that he helped create along the Hudson.
Soon after I moved from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley in 1991, I began frequenting the Beacon Sloop Club, the little sister to the Clearwater organization that he launched in 1967. Every first Friday of the month, the club potluck supper and meeting would be followed by a singalong. Pete was almost always there.
My marriage owes its existence to his pull. I met my wife through my friend David Bernz, who grew up around the Seegers and carries on Pete’s sound in the closest thing I know to a folk tribute band,Work o’ the Weavers.
Pete was a force for change and a bard celebrating nature and humanity’s bright and dark sides. But he also had a generous ear always cocked to hear a promising new song by someone else. Click here for his generous scribbled suggestions on a 2005 draft of “Arlington,” my song about cycles of war and the growing pains at Arlington National Cemetery.
[Insert 8:48 a.m.| Among his prime attributes were these: boundless energy and unwavering optimism that the future holds great promise. One of the most surprising, and wonderful, things I ever heard Pete say came when I videotaped a conversation at his house in which Andrew Blechman of Orion Magazine asked this:
What gives you hope when you think of the future, when you think of the next 30 years?
His immediate reply? “The Internet.”
Pete’s voice has been silenced, but his circle of song is unbroken.
READ THIS FULL POST IN THE NY TIMES.