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- Pete Seeger at 2013 Summer Hoot
It was Pete Seeger who inspired me to dedicate myself, as an environmental attorney, to work full time for the Hudson River for the past 15 years. I was at a crossroads professionally when I went to a party honoring Pete at Norrie Point, a beautiful facility right on the Hudson River in Dutchess County. I was trying to decide whether to accept a job offer that would require me to commute crazy hours from my home in Ulster County to Albany, with my son still in high school, to work for the Attorney General to bring a Natural Resources Damages Assessment claim against General Electric for its PCB pollution of the Hudson River.
All who were there shared food and song with Pete, looking out the windows as the sun set on the river. As the evening went on and I thought of how Pete had dedicated, and was continuing to dedicate, so many years of his life to protecting the river, the choice seemed clear, and inevitable: I had to work for the Hudson as well. While I don’t remember a specific conversation, he inspired me. The sharing of this experience with Pete was a large part of the reason I ultimately agreed to make the sacrifices to take the job, and I have never looked back. I’ve been working on the Hudson River ever since.
—Kate Hudson, director of Riverkeeper’s Watershed Program
The indelible link from Pete Seeger to my mother started in childhood: his songs were my first soundtrack, clearly soothing my agitated mother (Vietnam still raged) with their singalong spirit. My mother was a fervent peace demonstrator; vehemently anti-war; adamantly pacifist. But when Pete sang of fighting for justice, he brought out her warrior spirit. She’d hum along, privately joining his call to arms. He was such her beacon of hope that when I announced my pending move to Woodstock, she tempered her disappointment with, “Well, Pete Seeger lives around there.” And I kept trying to go see him, running into people who played with him, knew him; wondered if someday I’d meet him—and could then tell her.
As she began to lose her own war, I was in closer proximity to Seeger than ever before: the Klezmatics’ album of Woody Guthrie songs, Wonder Wheel, was being produced, some in my house. Stories of Guthrie and Seeger poured like wine. The album’s title seemed to embody that cycle of hope carrying us onward. Visiting my mother, those and Seeger’s songs kept us company: I hummed Irene, goodnight as my mother faded. Just after she’d died, feeling like the mighty wheel was mighty cruel, I went to a benefit in Kingston: the Klezmatics were playing with Seeger. Too late for Mom, I’d finally see him. I sat there reeling until he started to sing. As his frail voice rang out, I swear I heard her humming along.
—Jana Martin, Chronogram contributor and author of Russian Lover
Pete Seeger was a spreader of memes that reflected goodness, pure intention, integrity and loving kindness. He was a realist and an activist, but chose to use catchy music and poetry to change the reality and revive a tradition of using music to adjust politics. Life imitating art. He helped generations of people learn about their own folk music tradition, empowered people to sing and play folk music, and spread memes of positive change, reverence for life, nature, and community. When you hear an earworm pop hit on the radio that spreads a destructive or valueless message, take a moment to think of what it might mean for someone to resist that kind of cultural void and the destructive principles that cause people to create messages of garbage that we consume as music. Not just resist it, but empower others to resist it by learning to make music.
Our culture has become increasingly cheap, inauthentic, and greedy, and a powerfully integral popular presence like Pete Seeger allowed us to believe that someone would always be there to write the good kids’ songs, lay the right values into popular music, say the right thing, create with integrity, spread memes and messages that do good and not harm. Somebody always had the machine that surrounded the hate with love and forced it to surrender. We could relax about that, and now we cannot. We don’t have another Pete Seeger at the ready, and that’s the saddest thing. Who’s going to step in and force hate to surrender now? Who will even try?
—Liv Carrow, musician
Few humans have used music, and the power of song as elegantly, as beautifully, and with as much conviction to communicate observations and ideas about this life, this fragile existence that we collectively experience, as Pete Seeger. Pete was a trailblazer, a humanist, a dreamer, a believer, a master musician, a hope machinist, and a poet who used language and harmony to bind this world together one singalong at a time. His lifelong belief was that the world would not be saved by one big thing but by millions of tiny contributions. Millions of teaspoons heaped on the see-saw, one by one.
It is difficult to say goodbye to a friend. But with Pete’s loss I am overwhelmed by a feeling of purpose and the confidence to live my life to its fullest with the most righteous sense of truth and conviction. With this resolve, felt by millions of Pete’s “children” the world round, and with Pete’s guiding instructions that can be passed on and on into the distant future, I am well assured that Pete’s legacy and vision will endure as long as there are people and singers inhabiting the Earth. As Woody used to say, and as Pete often reiterated, “Take it easy, but take it.”
—Mike Merenda of Mike & Ruthy, musician