The one thing that I missed out on by doing the guest round at Rocky’s last week was catching the Pete Seeger 90th Birthday concert on PBS that night, but thanks to a wife who is on top of things, I was able to watch it last night on Tivo. Now I know that bringing up politics on any blog in this day and age is akin to chucking ground round into the hyena pen, but I will admit that I am a lefty. I grew up on my folks’ folk albums, I read too many comic books, and I developed a set of values that is heavy on social justice, freedom to be who you are, and just doing the right thing by people even if it might cost you a few tax dollars. Cynicism and sheer laziness have crept into my life, and I am far from an unflinching beacon for change, but I put my dollars down where I can, and I try to keep my snide comments to a minimum.
Pete Seeger is a lefty’s lefty. He always seemed to good to be true, but there he is on stage at Madison Square Garden, 90 years old and still believing if you get enough people singing the right songs them the world will change and more people will be less miserable and oppressed. The damnedest thing is that he is right. You don’t believe me? Consider this. When he started singing for African American people he was trying to help them get served at a lunch counter. Now he sings to honor an African American President. Sure I am not naive enough to think that Mr. Seeger’s sing-a-longs did the deed, but they did contribute. His songs and hundreds of other songs galvanized, vitalized, and spiritualized a movement that bore fruit. There is a reason for the power of this man and his music.
Peter Seeger is more than just a lefty. I have heard just lefty singers and even I roll my eyes at their ham handed means of attacking social problems. Pete Seeger is one of those rare artists who connects to a universal chord that runs through us all. In Mr. Seeger’s case he also has a skill in gently tugging on that chord and guiding us, together, to a better place. His art is bigger than politics of the now. He is the rare artist that will be viewed in the whole cloth of human history. His art will go on and on. Here’s how I know this.
I don’t want to give too much away, but my wife has a job that Mr. Seeger would approve of. Unfortunately, it does take her out of town from time to time. Last Sunday she went away and will not be back before Wednesday at the earliest. Monday night our little boy Maxwell was the two plus year old that missed his mother. I was able to get him down to sleep with just a bit of difficulty, and then I watched the Seeger concert. On about midnight, the show was ending, and Max woke up (he’s a city kid, he usually sleep through TV’s, car stereos, etc.). Max started to call out, “I want my mama! I want my mama!” That’s when the finale of the Seeger concert kicked in and all of the people who came to sing for the event joined together and sang Leadbelly’s “Good Night Irene”. I sing this to Max, changing Irene to Maxwell, just before he goes to bed most every night. That night he heard it from the television, calmed down, and drifted back to sleep. There is a real power in that song for my son, a power that was passed on from a recording, to my father, to myself and then on to him.
America needs inspiration to tackle the huge problems it faces now. It needed songs to inspire it through and against wars, to bring justice to marginalized people, and open up tolerant discussion instead of unflagging bullet headed dogma. It is also just as important to have a song that will soothe one child who misses his mama. Pete Seeger’s music can and has done both. That is his true genius.
The Answer to the “Free Drink Question”
How many ticker tape parades have been thrown in honor of the New York Mets? Drum Roll:
Three. The Mets were of course honored for their World Series Championships of 1969 and 1986, but the city also threw a ticker tape parade for them in 1962 to welcome them into the National League.
I have decided in a bold and somewhat ridiculous way to increase readership that I will buy a free drink to anyone who finds me in a bar and tells me that the Mets have had three ticker tape parades in their honor. So there.