My grandmother died recently. People told me different variations of “I’m really sorry to hear that” but I wasn’t sad. She’d been ill with dementia and various physical ailments for years. I was kind of happy for her that she was gone. I would never want to go through that at the end of my life. She deserved some peace.
For the same reason, I look at a guy like Pete Seeger and I’m kind of happy for him too. I read somewhere that there was an Ancient Greek proverb “Do not say a man is happy until he is dead”. Which allegedly meant that Greeks considered their life a work of art and that until your life was over you couldn’t say how it would turn out. I always took it to mean something more like- you never know what kind of awful things the gods are going to throw at you, so be happy if you die before they do it. I could be wrong.
Anyway, I look at Pete and see a man who was in touch with who he was and what he wanted to do in life. And actually managed to do what he wanted to do, unlike the rest of us. He lived to 94, and only outlived his wife by a year or so. What more can you ask for?
Being born to ex-hippie(ish) parents, I heard a good deal of folk music growing up. Woody Guthrie, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, Bob Dylan and, when my dad was feeling down, Joan Baez. I can’t remember if they had a Pete Seeger record, but obviously his influence was all through the above singers (except Woody, who obviously influenced him). Even probably in that damn John Denver tape my mom used to play on every family vacation.
Like Bob Dylan, I find Pete’s voice a little grating. I can’t help it, I do. But Pete could write beautiful tunes.
Even though I heard a lot of it growing up, I feel like old folk music, like old country, was just waiting for me to reach the age where I could discover it. And when I did there was this enormous, magical songbook of great music I could lose myself in. Folk music is the basis for music today- all the big simple melodies, the songs about everyday things- those come from folk. From blues, from country, from jazz too, but you can hear the sounds of modern pop in the way folk writers made their songs. Music was just waiting for The Beatles to come along, put a big bow on it and present it to the world.