Pete Seeger, RIP

by Chris Bertram on January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger, dead at 94.



MPAVictoria 01.28.14 at 11:27 am

A true hero. We won’t see his like again.


Emma in Sydney 01.28.14 at 11:48 am

What a life. What a fighter for justice. I grew up singing his songs in far away Australia — my parents wore out a copy of his Carnegie Hall album from 1963.


Tom Slee 01.28.14 at 12:27 pm

I don’t like the idea of “having heroes” by nature and on principle, but I have long made an exception for Pete Seeger.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 01.28.14 at 1:10 pm

Such a timely song. Happy trails, Pete.


MPAVictoria 01.28.14 at 2:42 pm

I hope it is okay to post our favourite Seeger songs here.

I truly love this song.


JG 01.28.14 at 3:00 pm

So many facets, such a life well lived! We also need to remember his courageous resistance in red baiting, where he was ordered to name names but instead offered to sing a song, and in later years his one man campaign, with many joining him and resulting in real change, to clean up the Hudson. And, long before (and perhaps long after) it was fashionable, his commitment to nature, to doing what he could do himself, from felling and splitting wood for his fires to his gardens. I wish I believed we would see the like of him again, but it’s hard to imagine.



Lynne 01.28.14 at 3:18 pm

MPAV—thanks for posting that link. What a great song! I hadn’t heard it before. What a life he lived. RIP


Lee A. Arnold 01.28.14 at 3:42 pm

My favorite Seeger song is The Bells of Rhymney (lyrics by Idris Davies) in the recording by The Byrds. I have found myself singing that once a week for the last 45 years.


MPAVictoria 01.28.14 at 3:47 pm

“MPAV—thanks for posting that link. What a great song! I hadn’t heard it before. What a life he lived. RIP”
Thanks Lynne! I should say that the original was written by his sister Peggy Seeger but I love his cover.


bob mcmanus 01.28.14 at 3:47 pm

Pete Seeger was the Bard of the optimistic America, and the hopeful world.

Born in 1950, I have always felt sad and a little guilty for not appreciating him more. I once said something nasty about Seeger on the nets, comparing him to Phil Ochs. Newport 1965 was a pivot, and Seeger was right, because his audience or part of it moved from optimism to anger to sadness and despair in ten years, from energy to destruction to withdrawal, and after 1970 listening to Seeger felt like an exercise in nostalgia and a painful reflection. It hurt.

I wish I could sing along with the Better Angel of our nature but I just can’t get past the guy dangling from a rope. Even after forty years I can only cry.


MPAVictoria 01.28.14 at 4:27 pm

I just had to post another one:

The man sang this at 91!


Lynne 01.28.14 at 4:40 pm

Wow, I didn’t know that one either. >sniff<


Bloix 01.28.14 at 4:47 pm

“after 1970 listening to Seeger felt like an exercise in nostalgia and a painful reflection”

In 1966, Seeger co-founded the environmental group the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. This was four years before the first Earth Day. He spent the next few years getting the funding for and overseeing the building of the sloop, which made its first voyage down the Hudson in 1969. He spent the ’70’s avidly working in environmental education and advocacy, among other things creating political pressure for the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 and playing an instrumental role in forcing GE to stop dumping PCB’s in the Hudson (in 1977), and eventually (in 2009) to begin removing them.

I can remember in 1974 or thereabouts being at a music festival on the Hudson and seeing the Clearwater, and thinking, what’s this environmental stuff all about? This isn’t politics. I was 19 and I didn’t get it. Seeger was 55 and he did.

Seeger never gave way to despair or nostalgia. He was always open to the next thing and found a way to be up at the front, ahead of most of the rest of us.


Trader Joe 01.28.14 at 4:55 pm

When he marched with Occupy a few years ago I remember thinking about all the notable things he had accomplished before all of the rest of the crowd was even born, yet they knew they needed a guy like him on their side and he knew that was the side to be on.

It was also notable that he didn’t just lend himself to any old cause that came down the street. Doing that would have diluted his imporance (think Bono). He spoke up and pitched in where he had conviction. Few manage to both recognize such a distinction and act upon it.


JanieM 01.28.14 at 5:04 pm

MPAV — thanks for that second one, I hadn’t heard it. It reminds me yet again to keep fighting my own cynicism first of all.

One of my favorites — Pete’s expressions are priceless as Arlo talks about him, and it’s a great rendition of one of my favorite songs, from an unexpected direction.


MPAVictoria 01.28.14 at 5:29 pm

Oh that was wonderful! Thank you.

I would love for this thread to go on forever with people swapping songs and stories. There has been a number of long and acrimonious threads lately and I think it would be very in keeping with Pete Seeger’s memory that we all remember that the vast majority of us who post and read here are on the same (and the right!) side.


Alan White 01.28.14 at 5:44 pm

MPAV @16

Amen and amen.


roy belmont 01.28.14 at 7:37 pm

Newport 68, the Junior Walker Big Band/with Buddy Guy (which so you know whom I groove on unrestrainedly still from then to now) are having a sound check on the main stage with full volume and all.
Pete Seeger, Elizabeth Cotton, some big black dude calling himself Taj Mahal, a bunch of others, were giving workshops out on the lawns, far from the stage, up close and personal.
You could talk with them about techniques and sources and anything else. Pete especially was delivering on levels young I couldn’t then apprehend, as well as the obvious ones of fingering and Woody and whether it’s okay to make up your own words to old tunes.
The sound check made it hard to hear it some.
The immediate power was all in the electricity and the amps, nearly drowning out those human noises, but the real strength was, it always is, in the people.

Abyssinia, Pete


MPAVictoria 01.28.14 at 7:44 pm

Wonderful story Roy.
Thank you


mrearl 01.28.14 at 8:00 pm

One of my favorites. And the big fool says push on.


Plume 01.28.14 at 8:05 pm

Seeger was a national treasure, and showed his supreme courage at the HUAC hearings. His songs carry peace and hope and solidarity, and we need that now, more than ever. He will be sorely missed.

Pete Seeger at HUAC

His songs and style and the beautiful way he interacted with people, and children, reminded me of a contrasting message, and the contrast between MLK and Malcolm X.

Here’s Mario Savio and his “gears” speech. Sorry for the irony of the youtube ads.


James Conran 01.28.14 at 8:44 pm

The video of his CBS performance of the Big Muddy:

And the story in his own telling:


Patrick S. O'Donnell 01.28.14 at 11:21 pm

One of my former teachers, Richard (‘Dick’) Flacks, a founder of the SDS and now retired sociologist (but still an activist!), posted a link to a wonderful piece he wrote for Jewish Currents back in 2009 (after Seeger’s 90th birthday):


godoggo 01.29.14 at 12:08 am

It would be nice to say RIP to red-baiting, but no such luck. No link, sorry.


bob mcmanus 01.29.14 at 12:20 am

I’m baaack. Golly, even Plume is playing nice today. And God knows we shouldn’t be injecting Lefty politics into a Pete Seeger Memorial Thread. But I love Ochs more. What ya’think, are we born to love Ochs or love Seeger? Or is it a choice?

“I vote for the democratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs” …Ochs, google for title if you don’t know it on sight

Mother Jones …today on Seeger

He stood motionless, gazing at the water. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately,” he said, “and I keep coming back to the first two lines from the song ‘John Henry.’ I think they represent the meaning of my life more than anything. Do you know them? They go, ‘And before you let that steam drill beat you down, die with that hammer in your hand.'”

I thought about that for a moment and said, “That’s beautiful. But doesn’t it presume defeat? Can you imagine the possibility of prevailing over that steam drill before you die?”

“Well,” Seeger said, still staring ahead at his river. “I don’t know. That’s not really the point.”

Really, after 50 years, more millions dead in American wars, surveillance state everywhere, the 1% taking everything, and another political trial in Chicago…and it isn’t about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game? Good sport, Pete.

I missed two points in my post at 10. The point of electric Dylan at Newport 1965 was that social activism and political commitment were turned into consumer services.

And further down, I couldn’t find the right terse adjective for “reflection.” What was in my mind was that Pete Seeger remained young hopeful cheerful idealistic energetic as a kind or reverse Picture of Dorian Gray that his audience could look at as if it were their reflection.

He isn’t.


godoggo 01.29.14 at 12:46 am

Well, the meanest thing I can think of, if that’s what you want, is that musically I mostly associate him with the children’s songs my parents played for me, whereas Ochs is someone I’m vaguely aware of. Me, I enjoy a good political song, but I don’t think they matter much. However, Seeger appears to have done what he could to make the world better in whatever way he could, which is more important than whatever he may have meant to me.


godoggo 01.29.14 at 1:00 am

That last sentence needs work.


bob mcmanus 01.29.14 at 1:13 am

Well, the meanest thing I can think of, if that’s what you want

It isn’t. I said I loved Ochs more, how could I not love Seeger. I am well content to play solo as the ugly nasty trolling asshole. Our kind ain’t all that social anyway, though I suspect we need less saints and more assholes in our current age. I don’t want to engage or argue. Y’all have your hootenanny, I’ll enjoy the Pleasures of the Harbor.


One-legged veterans will greet the dawn
And they’re whistling marches as they mow the lawn
And the gargoyles only sit and grieve
The gypsy fortune teller told me that we’d been deceived
You only are what you believe

I believe the war is over


harry b 01.29.14 at 1:22 am

My children learn this one at school. They sing it with enthusiasm and gusto, but, like Jerusalem, I can’t really sing it without crying:


MPAVictoria 01.29.14 at 1:27 am

Bob is of course entitled to his cynicism but i couldn’t disagree more. Pete Seeger accomplished a lot in his life and inspired others to work to make the world a better place. What more can one musician do?
/ Also like Phil Ochs


mattski 01.29.14 at 1:53 am

MPAV @ 16

You speak true my friend.


MPAVictoria 01.29.14 at 2:03 am

Another one that always stayed with me.


MPAVictoria 01.29.14 at 2:04 am

Great cover mattski


LFC 01.29.14 at 2:06 am

Trader Joe @14: My impression of Bono is somewhat different from yours.

godoggo @26: political songs can sometimes matter, when combined w other things of course (cf. the labor, civil rts and antiwar mvts, in all of which Seeger played a role, certainly he did in the latter two in any case).


MPAVictoria 01.29.14 at 2:07 am

“the labor, civil rts and antiwar mvts”

Not to mention the environmental movement.


LFC 01.29.14 at 2:10 am

@35: right — but i was thinking of songs in particular, which it seems to me have played less of a role in the environmental mvt, tho I suppose “This Land” reads as an env. mvt. song.


MPAVictoria 01.29.14 at 2:18 am

LFC. Pete had some songs on environmentalism as well. This one is great!


bob mcmanus 01.29.14 at 2:48 am

Bob is of course entitled to his cynicism but i couldn’t disagree more.

If I’m so cynical why have I been crying all day? What do you think I am crying over?
I just needed some grieving gargoyle music, cause I was in a grievous mood. Ochs is good for grieving. I don’t feel like marching music anymore.

I’ll Contribute

CT challenge. Some sad grievin’ Seeger songs to put me to bed tonight. I’ll check after my toons.

I’m fearful the decade of obituaries and anniversaries comin on gonna do me in. Anyday now, anyday now. That one won’t count.


MPAVictoria 01.29.14 at 3:05 am

This ones for you Bob


dn 01.29.14 at 3:13 am

Grievin’ Pete:

“Little birdie, little birdie, come sing to me a song; I’ve a short while to be here, and a long time to be gone.”


PJW 01.29.14 at 3:24 am

Little Birdie is magnificent. Echoes of the Dead’s Box of Rain. Thanks!


Kevin Erickson 01.29.14 at 4:25 am

One of my favorite things about Pete Seeger as a lefty hero: he took young people very seriously. He approached the task of creating engaging work for even VERY young folks with the same focus and seriousness of purpose that you saw in all his other projects.


godoggo 01.29.14 at 4:35 am

Well, here’s the song I most associate with him; probably the first music I can remember hearing. I don’t think mourning is quite the intent, but it will work. Careful.


maidhc 01.29.14 at 7:37 am

I remember my family watching Pete’s TV show when I was a kid. Ultra-low budget, just one set and a bunch of people sitting around a table. But what people. Some of the greatest folk musicians of all time.

My father used to joke about the old coffeepot that sat in the middle of the table and no one ever drank the coffee. But one night Mississippi John Hurt did help himself to several cups of coffee.

It wasn’t until I was much older that the realization came that it wasn’t really coffee in that coffeepot.


roy belmont 01.29.14 at 7:39 am


roy belmont 01.29.14 at 7:41 am

Roy Belmont is trying Bob.
Very trying says Bob.


roy belmont 01.29.14 at 7:43 am

This’ll probly be dyi:


dbk 01.29.14 at 9:02 am

Thanks to all who’ve linked above to great Seeger songs. Here’s another:


Tomatis 01.29.14 at 5:50 pm

He took a firm line on that warmonger FDR right up to, well, when the party told him to change his mind.


Harold 01.29.14 at 8:26 pm

When I was nine years old in 1950s I attended one of the schools where Pete Seeger taught while blacklisted. He came once a week to lead the singing assemblies. When he would walk through the doors of the school, the kids would crowd round, hugging him and screaming, “Pete, Pete,” — like the Beatles. He taught us “Down by the Riverside” and “If I Had a Hammer,” naturally, and I remember we also used to sing “Cool Water,” a song that had been on the hit parade in the 1940s. He had a great sense of what children would respond to. And one reason he had such tremendous rapport with audiences was that he really paid his performing dues.

This is a 1930s recording of the Western standard “Cool Water” (not by Seeger, but still interesting).

“Dan” in the song is either a horse or, more probably, a mule.


Bill Benzon 01.29.14 at 9:27 pm

Harry Belafonte inducts Seeger into the R&R Hall of Fame:


Bill Benzon 01.29.14 at 9:31 pm

And here’s the link if the embed code doesn’t work:


Bill Benzon 01.29.14 at 9:33 pm

Hmmm…. So the html engine doesn’t care about the embed code at all, but uses the link to embed the video. OK, I guess.


emmryss 01.30.14 at 1:19 am

44 — But if it was coffe it was probably Maxwell House.


MG 01.31.14 at 5:21 am

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