Famed folk singer Pete Seeger died earlier this week, and I want to use this TBT to commemorate him as best I can. Unfortunately, I’m probably not the best person to do that. Pete Seeger is a strange figure in American history. He is wildly important to people who are old enough to remember his more active days. I remember once, when I was younger, they played a concert of his on PBS, and my mother begged me to sit down and watch him play his songs, stressing to me how important he was, how special it was to watch him. I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I was certainly not old enough to have any understanding of what I was supposed to appreciate.
Now that I’m a little older, and I’ve been able to learn more about his life and his music. I find myself in a strange, vague kind of mourning– upset, not because we lost someone dear to us, but because I did not realize how much he meant until it was too late to experience him in the same way that so much of the American public had.
I am not particularly well-versed in Seeger’s life. He was a civil rights advocate, a folk singer who helped popularize old American folk music, who provided us with a more articulated sense of self, a political activist who was blacklisted during the Cold War and subsequently taken off TV for almost seventeen years, and, lastly, a figure who stood for goodness and compassion and unity and a moral fortitude that, even past his death, strikes at the heart of our nation’s hopes for what it can someday be.
What strikes me most, perhaps, about his career is the role that participation played in his music. Not only did people sing along to his music, he would often arrange his songs so that he would have time to feed the audience lyrics to sing in unison with him. His performances, as a result, for me speak to a sense of common understanding and– though it may be a corny word– love that we can have for one another, that can be used to build a better way of living and being.
If you get the chance I encourage you to listen to and watch him, to explore his life and his values. There’s a great documentary The Power of Song from 2007 that is worth a watch, for those interested. Here he performing what is perhaps his most famous song, Turn Turn Turn. Though he was towards the end of his career in this clip, and had lost his voice (which I find to have an interesting kind of power to it in his younger years), you can still see the same sense of participation and joy that defined his music from the beginnings of his career. I hope you enjoy it.