Sunday, February 16, 2014

In Memoriam: Pete Seeger

"I feel that my whole life is a contribution." - Pete Seeger
     The first music I ever heard live was at the legendary Fox Hollow folk festivals in New York, which my parents took me along as a little kid to see back in the early seventies, where he always used to play in a pasture out on a farm and everybody would sing along. Still have his how-to album from when I got a Honer 5-string banjo for my fourteenth birthday. Last time I ever caught Seeger on a stage he was with Arlo Guthrie, who had this to say:
"Well, of course he passed away!" I'm telling everyone this morning. "But that doesn't mean he's gone."
     Just a week before him dying, as with every opening lecture in Beginning Drawing, I had included him in my personal inspirations (along with images of Julia Child, Carl Sagan etc) as someone who’s passion was teaching their craft and skill, and making it easily understandable and fun. His is a beautiful voice that will be heard for all of history and carry on teaching simple wonder. Just listen:

     And as far as passing the torch goes, this would be a thoroughly appropriate place to point out an overlooked aspect of the 2014 Grammys: the winner of the "best American roots song" was by Steve Martin - who credits learning banjo partly from Seeger's book - for this sweet tune w/Edie Brickell:

“Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't.” - Pete Seeger
     One other example of how Seeger's legacy will endure is in the way he is so easily dovetailed into most any ongoing struggle or issue. I am reminded of the recent publication of a local University of Alaska adjunct who bluntly documents her challenges with the ridiculous situation facing the majority of college teachers as members of the working poor in "Hello Class, Your Professor Is On Food Stamps." This widening gap in academia and corresponding institutional reliance upon indentured servitude was adroitly addressed by Seeger himself and is just as relevant today as it was when he sang it over fifty years ago.
Teacher's Blues

Oh, teacher, teacher, why are you so poor?
Oh, teacher, teacher, why are you so poor?
When it comes to unions, you're an amateur.

Now, unions are for workers, but a teacher has prestige.
Oh, unions are for workers, but a teacher has prestige.
He can feed his kids on that old noblesse oblige.

Now, prestige is fine, but so is bread and meat,
Prestige is fine, but so is bread and meat.
What good is that white collar when you cannot eat.

Yes, he wears a white collar, he's treated with respect,
He wears a white collar, treated with respect,
Financially, he's solid wrecked.

Teacher, teacher, be a happy drudge
Oooh, teacher, teacher, be a happy drudge
You can stuff yourself with that old intellectual sludge.

I got the Teacher's blues, those blues are on my mind
I got the Teacher's blues, those blues are on my mind
'Cause inflation's got me, done left me far behind.
     The right-wing propagandists for the war machine wasted no time bashing Seeger's political preferences - an acknowledged and debatable aspect of his history - as they gleefully stomped on his fresh-dug grave (no doubt while singing Ted Nugent). Above and beyond any of those issues would be Seeger's outstanding and outspoken advocacy for environmental causes - the Hudson river and Clearwater sloop being the one of the better-known ones.

     I'll just let the poignant Patrick McDonnell have the last word here:

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