Photo by Karl Rabe/The Poughkeepsie Journal, December 5, 2004
My friend Jane rarely makes prescriptions but when we talked last week she gave me an Rx: Go see the Pete Seeger movie, this after I described the time we recently spent with the Dalai Lama. Now, to my knowledge, the Dalai Lama doesn't play the bango and Pete Seeger doesn't wear saffron robes but having seen Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, I understand the connection. Jane's preface to the advice was this: clear light comes through both men, the power of conviction.
Documentaries of this sort can easily slip into paeans, genuflections to the great. This one doesn't. First, there's the music, the songs so familiar that they evoke sensations like those of your favorite childhood meal or, pushover that I am, tears. Next, there's the example of a person who believes in a way of being in the world and pursues it, not by stepping on people but by simply continuing. And there's the honesty: his wife of forty-million years, Toshi, says: "If only Pete had been chasing women rather then causes, I could have left him." Anyone with a purpose-driven spouse understands.
Politcally persecuted (HUAC came after Seeger; he was blacklisted; and his career was ruined more than once), Seeger just kept singing. This post's title, "This little machine surrounds hate and forces it surrender," is lettered on Seeger's bango and explains what five strings and a big heart can do.
Children have been his greatest audience, a truth I must have absorbed without realizing it. I wrote a scene into a novel where Seeger gives a concert at the summer camp attended by the main character. (Truthfully, I've never heard him in person.)
Watching the film, an image kept recurring: To hire a bus and drive around to the houses of all my friends, load them in, and circle back to the theatre to watch this together. How old-fashioned when I can simply post here, have you click on the trailer and at least get a flavor. Don't miss this film--and don't be surprised if I show up at your door.
Personal note: Just as the singing was to begin at Carolyn Goodman's memorial service, her son David said that Pete Seeger had been planning to attend but was not feeling up to it. I never inquired what the problem was so I cannot report whether he is truly ailing or only had a cold but, at 88, this man has the strength of ten or a hundred.