Saturday, February 1, 2014

And when these fingers can strum no longer…

I got to the JRS office in Beirut at 8:30 Tuesday to start my day only to see that Pete Seeger had passed away. We all knew he wouldn't live forever, although all lovers of music and peace and 3-part harmonies hoped he would; no one, no group of people can fill the space that Pete leaves, although he tried his entire life to get us to.

It's hard to put into words what Pete did for the world through his music; his most popular songs weren't often written by him- The Seeger Sessions, Bruce Springsteen's folk tribute doesn't contain music by Pete. But he rather chose songs, plucked them from all over the world and delivered them to us, like spreading "We Shall Overcome" through the Union movements to the Civil Rights

One example, that I think ties up Pete into a nice little bow is the song "How Can I keep From Singing," a hymn written in 1868 by Robert Wadsworth Lowry. 
Originally strictly a church song packed with "thou"s and "God"s it was retooled as a folk song in the early l950s.

The refrain went from "Since Christ is Lord of heaven and Earth, how can I keep from singing?" to the version we know now, "Since LOVE is LORD of heaven and Earth, how can I keep from singing?" Pete heard this new version and ran with it, singing it at protests and folk gatherings all over the country.

So why does this sum him up to me? Because Pete believed in the accessibility of the spirit. That is, once this song had been stripped of it's religious phrasing that would alienate people, and replaced it with universal language saying essentially the same thing, he shared it with the world, because he wanted to bring us out of our small boxes and bring us together in the wider human community. Pete Seeger didn't stand on the side of the road holding a sign about stopping this war or that war, he stood on the highway holding up a sign that said "Peace", an idea that unites rather than separates.

So now Pete is gone, only a few months after his wife of 70 years, and it's our turn to live by his example. We, the next generation have to continue his work for peace and ecology and love. Pete said there is only a 50/50 chance humans will survive the next 100 years. I'll take those odds.

Here’s the big ask: think of one thing YOU can do this week to prove that Pete's message will keep going.

"And when these fingers Can Strum no longer, hand the old banjo to young ones stronger."


Feel free to read my other blogs about Pete here:
August 2012 – Quite Early Morning
November 2010 – Pete Seeger Saves My Sanity
June 2009 – My New Favorite Thing

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great article. Thanks for sharing it.