Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RIP Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger died today at age 94. It's hard to imagine a stronger and more fervent voice for freedom, for the little man, for the weary fighter over the past 70+ years than Pete Seeger's was. He wasn't just a part of folk music--Pete Seeger was folk music. And everything that it brought with it.

He wrote "We Shall Overcome" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and a host of other seminal songs that once were called "protest songs" but what really were songs of struggle, perseverance and, sometimes, triumph.

His voice rang out through the earliest days of the Civil Rights movement, his voice inspired those who thought America's involvement in the Vietnam War should end, his voice stood for workers looking for their fair shake, his voice emboldened those as they fought for equal rights for women and basic human rights for all people. From the days of Rosa Parks and Emmitt Till to the days of the Iraq War to the inauguration of this country's first African-American President in 2009, Pete Seeger's voice rang out, signalling change and demanding we never, ever stop seeking something better.

He journeyed and worked with Woody Guthrie, he inspired Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen (and so many others), he sang for us all. As much as any artist since World War II, Pete Seeger could claim the role (though seldom did) of America's Conscience.

Here's what Bruce Springsteen said about Pete Seeger during a celebration of his 90th birthday at Madison Square Garden in 2009:

“At some point, Pete Seeger decided he'd be a walking, singing reminder of all of America's history. He'd be a living archive of America's music and conscience, a testament to the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards a more humane and justified ends.”

Here he is back when he was a much, much younger man, singing one of his greatest songs and asking anyone and everyone to pay a bit more mind to ending the cycle of violence and loss that plagued us then and still plagues us today. Listen to his solitary, resolute voice, all by itself, and how it cuts through the air with the power of a entire symphony.

In another one of his greatest songs, Pete Seeger laid his wish for his country out plainly for all to see.

If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Rest in peace, Pete Seeger. A peace you've greatly earned. Your voice is quiet now, but your hammer's work continues on.

1 comment:

  1. Too many people think the drop of a pin is enough. We need the ring of a hammer.