Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vale Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger has died. He was 94, a great age in anyone's language, but I am so sad.

Today I am listening to that oh so familiar voice singing 'To everything there is a season...a time to be born and a time to die...' Of course I know that, but my foolish aching heart doesn't know it, so I listen and I cry into the lemon meringue icing I am making, and I think back to the first time I heard him sing.

I was thirteen and my aunt and uncle had taken me to see him perform at the Melbourne Town Hall. I fell in love immediately. With that voice, the tuneful alto soaring above the crowd as he cajoled a stuffy Melbourne audience, many of the men in suits and ties, to lose their inhibitions and to sing with him. With the sound of his 12-string guitar and banjo. With his genuineness. With his belief in the innate goodness of people, that we really could overcome.

I was hooked.

Every time I saved enough money for a record I'd tram into the city and think, 'this time I'll get something different'. But each time I'd put on the headphones in the booth and hear Pete's voice and succumb, adding another Pete Seeger LP to my collection.

But Pete returned the favour. He introduced me to other musicians: The Weavers of course, Woody Guthrie, and on and on down to the line, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen.

Pete Seeger kept me company through my awkward teen years. I'd shut myself up in my room, listen to his songs and feel less lonely, see that there were people out there who were good and decent and passionate about the planet and its inhabitants, that there was in fact a bigger world outside the confines of my suburban life.

There was even more to Pete than this, but I didn't know any of it then. That he built his own house, a log cabin, from instructions he found in the public library. His bravery in the face of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, preferring the risk of jail to naming names.

'A time to dance and a time to mourn.' For me now it's a time to mourn. And a time for giving thanks. Thank you so much, Pete. For everything.