In memory of Pete Seeger, some photographs of the great Hudson River, which he campaigned to clean up, rather quixotically when he started in 1969, after more than a century of its being used as an industrial toilet. And some reflections.In Ullapool, Scotland, some years ago I went to a pub late in the long summer day to hear some traditional music and drink the local water of life. There was a fellow from Glasgow at the bar whose accent was so thick I needed subtitles, but I got his gist: he’d come up there especially just to hear the band, claiming there were few places to hear the stuff now in Scotland. The quartet’s songs were unfamiliar, but those tunes and melodies were like ghosts in my ears. I heard the rolling river of “Shenandoah” and I kept trying to place it. (Springsteen and company on the Seeger Sessions album have an affecting version.) The long journey of the Scots to Ireland and then America seemed to roll out of that music. Some of them may have been my ancestors, particularly on my mother’s side, but I don’t know enough of that history to say for sure. My mother I know about. She was an “Okie,” born on a farm in a hamlet southwest of Oklahoma City, abruptly uprooted as a youngster during the Depression. Instead of the classic route to the promised land of California (or maybe not, if “you ain’t got that do-re-me,” as another Oklahoman, Woody Guthrie, noted), her parents retreated to the Illinois they’d started from. Then, somehow, she signed up with the State Department after a couple years of college in St. Louis and ended up in Baghdad, Iraq, in the 1950s. Later she worked in Frankfurt, where she was secretary to the head of the Escapee Program (escapees from the Eastern Bloc, that is; the then current immigration law was too exclusionist to let them into the US as refugees). That’s where she met my father, who was working for State’s Courier Service. When I was very young, she played folk music on guitar, much influenced by Joan Baez’s folk revivalist phase (that song book survived many a move around the world), complete with long straight hair (later, also like Joanie, she wore it short). Somewhere along the way she stopped playing and singing. Perhaps it was just a fad, as it was for many. To this day, though, folk music — especially those plaintive gal singers (like Baez doing Seeger’s “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”) — tends to make me cry.
“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” ~ from the third section of Ecclesiastes, the King James Version — certainly the only worth-while committee-written book — put to music by Seeger in the much-covered “Turn Turn Turn.”
Goodnight, Pete, rest in song.