Pete Seeger, Almost Entirely Right

Pete Seeger’s recent death reminded me of the only time I got to hear him.  I happened to be walking through MIT one afternoon in 2000 when I saw a poster advertising a concert of his.   It was over at the Sloan School of business, so I strolled in.  There he was, the American Bard,  in a small auditorium playing for a couple dozen people with a children’s choir behind him.    He would have been 78 at the time.   He had been performing for 60 years, and this was a terrible venue with terrible turnout, but he still had tremendous verve.   He did “If I Had a Hammer” with the choir, and then swung into a great kid’s song, “English Is Cuh-ray-zey”:

Lyrics here.

“There’s no egg in eggplant, no pine or apple in pineapple.
Quicksand works slowly; boxing rings are square.
A writer writes, but do fingers fing?
Hammers don’t ham, grocers don’t groce. Haberdashers don’t haberdash.
English is cuh-ray-zee!”

He was there as part of a day-long program on “Community, Culture, Spirituality and Technology”, probably because he knew the organizer, Jane Sapp.   Article on it here.  When sitting at a panel talking about this serious stuff, his first act was to lead the audience in a song.

Maybe that’s how you get to be right about so many things – stay enthusiastic, stay funny, and help your friends.  He was wrong about Stalin in the 40s, but he was right about civil rights in the 50s, about the Vietnam War in the 60s, and about pollution in the 70s.   Here he is in the 2010s at Occupy Wall Street, still in the forefront:

Marcus Yam for the New York Times, Oct-22-2011

Marcus Yam for the New York Times, Oct-22-2011, click for story

He’s freezing, he has to walk with two canes, but he’s still out there at age 92.  In 2009 he got to perform at the inauguration of the president in front of a million people on the Mall.   Take that, House Un-American Activities Committee!

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