I’ve been thinking about this post for years.
I used to cover music for several magazines back in the day, especially in the New York area. Part of the responsibility was to write obituaries, and I remember one day thinking that i’d have to write one for Pete. I swatted the thought down, not being able to think that far into the future. Then I wrote one for his brother Mike. Then last year I wrote one for his wife Toshi. I knew it was going to happen, and I knew that it would hurt me bad.
I met Pete several times. I am a regular at his Clearwater Festival, the music festival that supports his environmental group, Clearwater. As I child, I went on a field trip and sailed on the Clearwater. I never forgot the rocking of the waves or the singing crew. It’s one of my fondest memories.
There will be other obits out there that go into all his accomplishments, all the fantastic songs he wrote or popularized, the way he stood up to Joe McCarthy and embraced the Civil Rights Movement, his support of the New York music scene, his dedication to the environment. Maybe they’ll talk about the movement to nominate him for a Nobel Prize. That’s all academic.
What they can’t tell you is how he made you feel. He made you want to sing.
I never did a full interview with him, but I talked to him many times. He had a way about him, and when he spoke, you listened. Not that he was the kind of voice that demanded attention. It was the other way around. He was humble and easy going, but possessed of a simple wisdom that made you want to listen for hours. He made you want to sing.
He was tall. Really tall. Until you’ve seen him in person, you don’t realize just how tall he was. Even at 94, he was still this white-haired beanpole in a fisherman’s hat. He gave off this air of mental and spiritual strength. He made you want to sing.
And so we sang. He took the stage and led us, and we sang. Great waves of people singing “Turn Turn Turn” or “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” while he played the long neck banjo or the 12 string. People of every gender, color and class joining their voices into one.
Pete Seeger is gone, but songs last forever. Sing for Pete’s sake.