This is what songwriters dream of. My song…covered by a guy I’d pay to see. John Canjar. I get to call him a friend too. It doesn’t get much better.
It’s a second take only because he did a perfect first one and I forgot to hit the record button. If I could sing and play like this I could sleep late everyday.
Thank you John. I’m truly honored.
I’ve been thinking of Pete Seeger. It should not be a surprise that a 94 year old man has passed. But I was surprised. I feel that way every time a man who cannot be replaced dies. Seeger was like Mandela with a banjo. A man who walked and like he talked (and sang) it. Utterly fearless..yet never fearsome. When dragged before the infamous house un-American activities committee, Seeger offered to sing, but eloquently refused to name names (or use the 5th Amendment..”I had nothing to hide” he said)…..facing down the small minds arrayed against him with so much integrity that his accusers seemed baffled. Seeger is my definition of a great American. A man who served his country his entire life.
I’ve long been an ardent student of Woody Guthrie. But even Woody at his most rambunctious couldn’t keep up with Pete. Seeger was like a liberal energizer bunny. There was one path. The right one. He would not equivocate. He would not compromise. No man more fervently believed that “all men were created equal”. When I hear these famous lines from Tom Joad…
“…wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”
…I know it was truly Seeger who lived them. Right to the end. Always imploring us to sing along. To get involved. To not be passive. To raise our voices. You think it’s easy to get folks to sing along? Try it sometime. I’ve seen many a fine musician want to crawl into a hole onstage after failing at audience participation. In the last few years of his life Seeger’s singing voice was no more than a whisper. Yet he could still raise the roof….with 3 part harmonies to boot.
If not for Seeger, marchers wouldn’t be singing “We Shall Overcome”. Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” would not be sung by today’s school children. Leadbelly might be the unknown answer to a trivia question. Who knows. Dylan might be working in a Minneapolis car-wash. Oh…that Dylan kid. The famous story of Seeger grabbing an axe and wanting to cut the cables during Dylan’s electric set at Newport is all true, but Pete wasn’t pissed with the amplification. He was pissed because nobody could hear the words to “Maggie’s Farm”. If you can’t hear the words, how can you sing along? Seeger could never understand anybody being intentionally unintelligible.
Seeger made the world a better place. How many can say that? Can you really think of a better legacy?
I never considered that one day he’d leave us. He’s always been here. Pro-union. Pro-worker. Walking the picket line. Marching for Civil rights. Marching against war (at the age of 83 he stood alone in the dead of winter along the highway near his home holding an anti-Iraq war sign, as cars motored past either honking their support or giving him the finger. The sign said, simply, “Peace”) He was very much involved with the current “Occupy” movements. He was the largest 130 pound man in the world. There may be an American artist out there with Seeger’s integrity. But dammit, right now I can’t name one. Can you?
I once sent him a letter and some songs I’d written. He responded with a hand written note (with his trademark banjo drawn in the corner) and called me a “great lyricist”. I think I had to wear larger shirts for a month to accommodate my puffed-out chest. I hope he realized how much the little things he did for people like me mattered.
And so we move on. Pete will be out of the news in a day or two. I wish that wasn’t so but it is. He deserves so much more that what modern memory will offer.
A final story. Pete recently sang for a group of schoolchildren in his hometown of Beacon, New York. Their teacher introduced him as a “man who has probably done for this country than any other.”
I can’t argue. Can you?
Farewell Pete. It’s been good to know you…
In a bit..