Pete Seeger, 90 years old today. His generation (including my parents) seem to have the market on longevity (while my generation is dropping like flies, already); but not even that many of his fellow WWII survivors were out standing upright and playing the banjo in the freezing cold of this year’s January. Let alone doing it in front of the President-elect, in the city that tried to throw him in jail 55 years earlier.
Here’s one place playing some music for the occasion:
I don’t have the time or strength to write the book on Pete right now. Heck, that would mean catching up with what he’s been up to, when there’s no one who could even keep up with him. There was a very nice biography on him broadcast on PBS last year, and it showed me many things about his life I had either never heard or forgotten over the years. I guess he never much focused on telling us his own story, except as it related to his telling of other people’s stories, and their telling of their own. By the end of the movie, I was saying, “I take back any of the nasty things I’ve had to say about Pete over the years.” Not that I ever stopped being his fan, but I certainly saw some weaknesses between when I got into the whole earlier folk movement in my early teens, and when I learned so much more about the more rootsy original versions that inspired it. Not that I would take kindly to any ignorant punk putting him down. But, sure, Pete’s blues weren’t that bluesy. His easy-going approach to other languages turned ‘mbube’ into ‘wimoweh’ in most of the world’s mind. he would choose ideology over aesthetics repeatedly.
Still, I see now, he is authentic as any of those sources. He has been the most whatever the heck he is that anyone could possibly be. He got every drop out of it. Unflagging effort, unsullied virtue, untiring seeking and sharing. Love, peace, justice, universal brotherhood of man. School drop-out, hobo, protester, cabin-building rural independant… if it weren’t for his shunning of drugs, alcohol and free sex he would indeed be the prototypical hippie.
One of the most amazing and mysterious things about his history is his effect on popular culture. he has spent most of his life not only not pursuing fame and commercial success, but attacking the very concepts. And yet, he keeps coming back to the ‘top of the charts’ decade after decade. Talk about the weeds cracking the sidewalk.
I guess there should be some mention of the star-studded spectacular, though I’m not that hot on it. He’s spending tonight at Madison Square Garden with Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder, etc. and certainly not that happy at the prospect. “I’ve already had too much publicity”, he says. But, it’s going to raise a lot of money for his pet project of keeping a sloop sailing the Hudson, raising awareness for its’ cleanup. He had this idea a long time ago; and it happened.