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.
All of life, and I mean life experienced as such – real and earnest as they used to say 100 years ago – takes place for me in the seams. In the larger pieces of the fabric I am lost, aswim in warp and woof and itchy in the wool and died in the wombat. No, I’m living life in the cracks; just like the beloved inner-city vegetation. It’s only in the transitions that I have this imaginary sensation of being “in” it. Walks and bike rides. And dreams. As I walk through the neighborhood I stride dynamically (as I did just now), or drag painfully. Dramatic either way, observed by an appreciative audience of trees. Out in the world, I am the world. Endlessly rich and complex and changing and dying and becoming. I seem to be full of possibilities, but that is just a momentary glimpse. Put all those moments together from my nearly 60 years of life thus far, and you have about a half day of getting ready for something.
There’s no doubt I’m not living the life I want to live. And, I can’t afford to live the one I am living; nor do I feel I have the time and strength to do anything about it. I’ve always been shrouded by this feeling that you can’t get there from here. But, nevertheless, between here and the grocery I’m on my way.
This neighborhood is different than my old one. I like it on a greyish spring evening, the slight hilliness, the narrow and old passages, the little houses and little trees and little people all piled up on each others’ edges at odd angles. I imagine if I were painting it I’d feel very european. I imagine I’m painting it. Everything I see, I imagine I’m somehow making it possible for the world to feel the moment. But, of course, it takes many many hours of concentration to really gather even the most minimal index of all this information. It’s all just fading away now that I’m home, just like those dreams. Those dreams, where things happen and I’m really living.
But, this is not what we gathered here for. No, let’s move on and look through some of the important junk I keep coming across in these internet alleys…