I knew his songs before I knew words. My mother sang me his songs as lullabies, as I now do with my daughter.
Pete Seeger is the music in the background of my heart, the soundtrack of my childhood. In a house without a television growing up, there were always folk records playing, and Pete’s voice filled our small house more often than not.
The first time I saw him perform was in the amazing open Opera House in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was seven, the age my daughter is now. I saw him perform again in middle school, twice when I was in high school (one of those times with Arlo Guthrie), again in my 20s at the now gone Valley Forge theater with the rotating stage, and again in my mid-thirties with my mom here in Philly even though it was much harder for him to sing.
No matter how my musical tastes varied, I loved Pete’s music.
The first time we saw him perform when I was in high school, it was at a small folk music festival in Michigan. After the performance, my mom and I spotted him striding with his big legs across the grounds. My mom’s jaw dropped, and I could see that she wanted to say hello but was too shy. I grabbed her arm and dragged her over to Pete to say hello. He was incredibly gracious and spoke with us for fifteen minutes, his banjo slung over his shoulder.
This event repeated itself several years later, but I was a surly teenager dragged to see him perform. I wore my best ripped-up punk rock clothes and made my pink hair extra spikey for the occasion, but when we saw Pete walking across the grounds again he stopped, came over to us, and greeted us by name. It was the most remarkable thing, and such an incredible kindness from him that it wiped the smirk right off my asshole teenager face.
The first time I played Abiyoyo for Tori was when my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. Listening to her laugh as he told and sang the story a song I was lucky enough to seem him perform as a kid made my heart swell sweetly and painfully with joy.
Just this week, Tori asked me to sing If I Had A Hammer for her at bedtime, a song she hasn’t asked for in years. I sang it every night for six nights in a row, until last night, after he’d already passed.
I don’t believe that was a coincidence. I firmly believe that is one some folks call “a God moment.”
I hope Tori sings his songs to her children too.
Pete was a good man. I am so damn happy he lived long enough to see Barack Obama elected president. I hope right now he’s sitting in the afterlife with Woody Guthrie, Mary Travers, Richie Havens, and all the other folk greats that went before him. I’ll bet it’s one hell of a concert.
Goodnight, Pete Seeger. The world is darker without you.
For more information about Pete’s life I suggest you read Laurie’s excellent obituary.