I grew up on Pete Seeger, his music and his voice coming to me through the radio, the television, and perhaps just in the wind. Of course there was the Beatles, the Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, Tom Jones, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel and many songs coming through the small transistor radio I held to my right ear under my covers at night, but folk music and show tunes were my first love. Pete Seeger, as everyone knew in the 60s (and 50s) and every decade since knows, was the sea from which so much else seemed to evolve.
I was so inspired by Seeger’s rendition of “This Land is Your Land” that, at age nine that I performed it in a summer camp talent show. In a tutu. Twirling a baton badly (simply turning my wrist one way, then another). Marching back and forth. The other campers were unduly quiet during my performance. I won a special talent show award, not for singing, twirling or pacing, but “the guts award,” something they made up on the spot for me. Hugging the trophy, which was a plastic train filled with candy, to my chest on the way home, I knew Pete would be proud.
I knew every verse of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” (Pete is 93 in this version) and especially “We Shall Overcome,” all of which we sang in the massive peace marches my wise mother took me to in New York City when I was a kid. Singing “Forever Young” to myself at hard moments in high school was a refuge. After college, when I worked in the union movement, I thought of Pete often when we belted out “Solidarity Forever” and “Union Maid” at the end of meetings before drinking copious amounts of beer. In the bioregional movement, “Somos El Barco” became a central song we sang often in opening and closing circles.
One of Pete’s new verses for “Turn, Turn, Turn” has the lines, “a time to get, a time to give/ a time to remember, a time to live,” reminding us what time it is. As for Pete being dead? Arlo Guthrie said it best in his Facebook post today: “‘Well, of course he passed away!’ I’m telling everyone this morning. ‘But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.'”