Being a music writer in the Hudson Valley, naturally I've always wanted to interview Pete Seeger, the spiritual grandfather of all of today's local musicians (and the real-life grandfather of a prominent one, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger). But for the better part of my nearly five years with Chronogram, the golden opportunity to speak with this crown jewel of upstate music makers proved frustratingly elusive. Much of this came down to scheduling; either I'd learn that the driven Pete already had some bigger things going on during a given month, or the editorial cabal here would decide not to cover another "folk" artist so soon after featuring one of his many musical descendents.
Of course by then things had really been in overdrive for Pete, since Bruce Springsteen had released his 2006 tribute album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, which connected the appreciative but reluctant folk star with a new, enthusiastic audience and thrust him once again onto the world's main stage. "Bruce is such a nice guy. But he blew my cover," Pete says, with a laugh. "Now the mail comes in by the bushel and the phone rings every hour."
So I was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand: my position as a journalist whose job it is to cover local musicians of interest, my long-held admiration for Pete's music, and my barely repressed compulsion to thank him for all of the amazing things he's done as a humanitarian and an environmentalist by trumpeting him within these pages. On the other hand: the basic respect I have for the privacy of a person who's given of himself to literally millions the world over for almost all of his life, a man who already has the world beating down his door for a piece of the quiet family time he's, quite frankly, more than entitled to enjoy by this point. When I heard that he'd decided he wasn't going to do any more interviews it was discouraging and heartbreaking, though not exactly surprising.
And then a bit of light. Via two of Pete's friends and fellow musicians, Victorio Roland Mousaa and Story Laurie McIntosh (much thanks to you guys, and to writer David Kupfer), I was able to finally get a word with him. As a regular Chronogram reader who says he's enjoyed my articles (insert sunbeam here), Pete told me he was happy to do the interview because "small publications are what's going to save us all."
For my segment of the magazine I've been lucky enough to work with photographer Fionn Reilly, whose abilities at capturing, month after month, our subjects in a way that is both artistically arresting and humanly revealing never ceases to blow me away. To me, this shot of a robust and accommodating Pete standing among the trees he loves so well—and no doubt making them all jealous with his indomitable resilience—pretty much nails it.
My father, a casual fan of the more polite end of the early '60s folk boom (Limelighters, Kingston Trio, New Christy Minstrels), passed away in October 2009. Unlike many of the other musicians I've covered over the years, Dad knew very well who Pete Seeger is. He also knew I'd been trying to write about Pete for years, and about how crestfallen I'd become when it looked like it wouldn't happen. "Don't give up," he'd tell me. "Keep trying and you'll get there." I'm happy to say here he was right.