Keith R.A. DeCandido (kradical) wrote,
Keith R.A. DeCandido

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Pete Seeger, RIP

I haven't been doing death notices with the same frequency that I used to, mostly because it got too depressing because I kept losing people close to me and/or people too damn close to my age. I think the last straw was the third person in two years that I went to high school with dying in her 40s.

This one, however, must be noted, because Pete Seeger has been such an important part of my life. I've been listening to his music and his stories for as long as I can remember. Seeger has died at the age of 94, going peacefully in his sleep. I knew we'd be losing him soon, but it still is a terrible loss, as Seeger is one of the treasures of this country. He started singing songs before World War II with Woody Guthrie and Milt Lampell and Ciss Cunningham and Leadbelly, and he was going to Occupy Wall Street in his 90s a couple years ago. He was part of the Almanac Singers and the Weavers. In between, he wrote or developed or popularized some of the most important songs of the 20th century, from "We Shall Overcome" to "Turn! Turn! Turn!" to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" to "If I Had a Hammer" to so many more. He founded the Newport Folk Festival and the Clearwater Festival, and did so much, always deferring accolades and fame in favor of helping other people. One of my favorite quotes about him is from Arlo Guthrie, with whom he's performed since the 1970s, when Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. When discussing the Weavers' hitting #1 on the charts with their cover of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene," Arlo said, "I can’t think of a single event in Pete’s life that is probably less important to him."

And his performances were always magnificent, encouraging everyone to sing along with him. The first time I saw him was in Central Park as a tiny tot, when he joined Arlo on stage for one of his concerts there. The last time I saw him was also with Arlo in Carnegie Hall over Thanksgiving 2012. I saw him a few times in between, notably when I was a teenager at the Clearwater Festival. I remember worrying that he was looking frail and we might not have him for much longer. That was 25 years ago...

Most important, though, was the message of all his music was always one of peace and love and friendship and against war and hatred and intolerance.

So raise your glasses to a great American treasure, a fine human being, and one of the best folk singers ever to grace our world.


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