Everybody sing along…

Pete Seeger died today. 

My life flows on in endless song

Above earth’s lamentations,

I hear the real, though far-off hymn

That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife

I hear its music ringing,

It sounds an echo in my soul.

How can I keep from singing?

While though the tempest loudly roars,

I hear the truth, it liveth.

And though the darkness ’round me close,

Songs in the night it giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm,

While to that rock I’m clinging.

Since love is lord of heaven and earth

How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble sick with fear

And hear their death knell ringing,

When friends rejoice both far and near

How can I keep from singing?

In prison cell and dungeon vile

Our thoughts to them are winging,

When friends by shame are undefiled

How can I keep from singing?

He didn’t have a particularly loud voice. You listened closer to this quiet man, because of it. But his voice was unforgettable and his message even more so. I can’t think of many artists that had such a varied repertoire, and he entertained small children as easily as he impassioned adults.

I knew his music before I knew him. My camp counselor and most of the staff were college students, and more than one of them had guitars. This was the folk music era, and I was falling in love with Peter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan….and Pete Seeger. Some we sang at campfire, each night; others I heard when the staff had a break and they were enjoying some time together. It was the first time I was aware of wanting to grow up and work at camp, and when I grew old enough to do that, I remembered how important it was to be the kind of young adult that a child might want to emulate, might want to know more, to have what I had. And camp was where you could reach a child’s heart with a song, if you couldn’t reach them any other way. Pete Seeger knew how to reach hearts that way. He knew how to make you care about many things, not least of which was the injustice he’d seen so much of.

To everything (turn, turn, turn)

There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

And a time for every purpose under heaven.

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep.

A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones

A time to gather stones together.

A time of war, a time of peace

A time of love, a time of hate

A time you may embrace

A time to refrain from embracing.

A time to gain, a time to lose

A time to rend, a time to sew

A time of love, a time of hate

A time of peace… I swear it’s not too late.

Taken straight from Ecclesiastes…the first time the staff taught us “Turn, Turn, Turn” at campfire, and told us its origin, I couldn’t wait to check my Bible when I got back to my cabin. And there were the words that made the Bible alive for me in a way it had never been–a book, the Book, that suddenly seemed right here, right now.

And it meant that folk music was suddenly ‘my’ music. It still is. Some of the lyrics were deceptively simple, but if you were paying attention to what was going on in the world around you–and I was–nothing was simple. 

 The water is wide, I cannot cross over,

And neither have I wings to fly,

Give me a boat that can carry two,

And both shall row – my love and I.

A ship there was, and she sails the sea,

She’s loaded deep as deep can be,

But not so deep as the love I’m in,

And I know not how, I sink or swim.

I leaned my back up against some young oak,

Thinking he was a trusty tree,

But first he bended and then he broke,

And thus did my false love to me.

I put my hand into some soft bush,

Thinking the sweetest flower to find.

I pricked my finger to the bone,

And left the sweetest flower alone.

Oh, love is handsome, love is fine,

Gay as a jewel, when first it is new,

But love grows old, and waxes cold,

And fades away, like summer dew.

The seagulls wheel, they turn and dive,

The mountain stands beside the sea.

This world we know turns round and round,

And all for them – and you and me.

My taste in music grew and changed as I did the same, but I never stopped loving folk music and I know now I never will. I had a lot of it on LPs, gradually replacing them with CDs when they were just not playable any longer. And just last year when Seeger’s wife, Toshi, died, I played Seeger for several weeks after, loving the quiet voice just as I always had.

He was 94, and surely saw a lot of dissension in his lifetime. I remember studying the transcripts of his testimony before the HUAC; I wish I could have heard it, as he remained calm and steadfast. He absolutely refused to play the game. He never did play games. He knew what he believed, and he lived it, taught it, sang it and spoke it and shared it.

Arlo Guthrie said it best: 

“Well, of course he passed away!” I’m telling everyone this morning. “But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.”

There are those who will disagree about Seeger’s legacy, about the good he did with his music. And they are entitled to that opinion. We don’t all have to agree. But I prefer to remember my hero singing that “We shall live in peace….someday.”

Rest in peace, gentle soul.


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