Struggle is Long, but Hope is Longer
Brothers, Sisters, All
We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder
Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014)
I don’t usually publish an issue with just one posting but Pete Seeger died last night and I can’t get his memory off my mind. So I’m moved to share my memories and thoughts on how he impacted my life and how, on a much greater stage, he influenced our musical culture, all aspects of the progressive movement, and indeed our national and international political history. Hopefully, it will inspire and stimulate some of you to write in and share your memories and thoughts.
For three summers when I was 10, 11, and 14 years old I went to University Settlement Camp in upstate Beacon, NY. It was the extension of the University Settlement House on the Lower East Side whose mission and programs were designed to try to counteract poverty and racism inherent in inner city communities. Most of the kids were from the city but some liberal, middle class white parents like mine thought it was important to provide their children with an integrated setting at a camp with progressive values.
OK, this video of Pete and a group of kids (possibly at summer camp) doing a cover of Dylan’s classic Forever Young has a pinch too much syrup but is very reminiscent of the feelings I experienced when I sang with Pete at that age. And of course, even at 94, Pete managed to stay forever young.
Those were some of the most memorable summers of my life which truly shaped and formed my views on the world and high on the highlight list were the annual visits by Pete to our nightly after dinner camp-wide folk singalongs. Pete lived just a few miles away, up the hill towards Mt. Beacon which towered over the camp. Since I was raised on folk, Pete was already a “rock star” for me and getting to see him in such an informal and close setting, and sing along while he (as Arlo Guthrie later joked) sang the front part, felt really special and was something I’ll never forget. We sang all his classics including Michael Row your Boat Ashore, Jacob’s Ladder, Where Have all the Flowers Gone, the Banks Were Made of Marble, Wimoweh, and of course We Shall Overcome to name a few.
I was fortunate enough to see Pete perform many more times throughout my life. Several of the most memorable were the annual Carnegie Hall concerts with Arlo Guthrie. Considering his relationship with Woody, not surprisingly Pete and Arlo had a very special relationship both personally and musically which was completely transparent. Attending his 90th birthday tribute concert at Madison Square Garden was a special treat as we got to see how far and wide his musical roots have spread (see review). Over the years, Pete planted many seeds and so many have borne fruit. Several years later he appeared at a 9-11 Memorial concert/benefit and we wound up meeting him briefly before the show began. We had volunteered to help the organizers and as it turned out Pete was not only appearing for free at the benefit but, at 92 was there early helping to schlep and set up the auditorium.
As I think of Pete and the incredible contributions he’s made in so many areas, I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages (and songs of course) in the Passover Haggadah known as Dayenu which loosely translated means “it would have been sufficient.” And it seems like an apt framework for talking about Pete and his life.
If Pete had merely sung with Woody Guthrie and helped make Woody’s music part of the American songbook, Dayenu
If Pete had himself, merely written some of the most meaningful American folk songs, Dayenu
If Pete had merely been a member of the Weavers, Dayenu
If Pete had merely taught us to appreciate other cultures and their musical contributions, from gospel and blues to Appalachian roots music, and around the world from Latin American to South African to Eastern European folk music, if it was the peoples’ music it was Pete’s music, Dayenu
If Pete had merely been a great performer, banjo and 12 string guitar player who could get an audience of 20 or 200,000 to sing along with him, Dayenu
If Pete had merely been an early and strong vocal supporter of environmental causes, if he had only helped breathe new life into the Hudson River through his Clearwater project, Dayenu
If Pete had merely been an early and constant voice for workers and for their labor movement struggles… for fair wages, decent working conditions, and benefits such as health care and retirement, Dayenu
If Pete had merely fought for the rights of the downtrodden of society, for the poor, for women, for civil rights for all minorities, for the LGBT community, Dayenu
If Pete had merely struggled against class oppression and fought for equality and justice for all, Dayenu
If Pete had merely supported the struggles of people all around the world and made his contribution by bringing these struggles into the limelight, Dayenu
If Pete had merely opposed nuclear proliferation and helped organize a worldwide movement for disarmament, Dayenu
If Pete had merely been a loud and soulful voice for ever lasting peace across the world, Dayenu
But Pete was all of these things and more. He was one of my heroes and I’ll miss him.
Late City Edition Correction: An earlier edition of this blog stated that we met Pete and worked with him to set up the auditorium for an Occupy Wall St. benefit concert. My wife gently reminded me that my recollection was a bit skewed and it was actually a 9-11 memorial concert. This edition has been updated.
Hey Folks, Opinion8ed2 is fast approaching a milestone – 10,000 reader page views!!! The count up clock is located in the right hand side bar and it updates anytime someone visits these here parts. In order to celebrate this auspicious occasion I am offering a prize to the person who bags the exact 10,000 hit*. Unfortunately I will be unable to set off any sirens or confetti if you win so you’ll need to keep an eye on the meter and if you hit the jackpot, take a screen shot (or digital photo with your camera) and send this proof to me electronically
(Opinion8ed.firstname.lastname@example.org) along with (3) box tops from your favorite Opinion8ed issue to redeem your prize. Good luck!
*Fine Print: This offer is open to all residents of Planet Earth except the immediate families of all employees of Opinion8ed2
News Flash!! As you an see from the screen shot evidence below (click on picture to enlarge and make it readable), we had a winner of the 10,000 page views contest:
But, believe it or not, the winner was none other than my wife who neglected to read the fine print and, of course, is ineligible from the contest… You can’t make this stuff up! I guess we’ll try again at 15,000 page views.