Sunday, May 3, 2009

How Can I Keep from Singing? (Robert Wadsworth Lowry)

Happy 90th Birthday, Pete Seeger!

Pete Seeger's 90th birthday will be a selfless celebration
Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — Three months after Bruce Springsteen persuaded Pete Seeger to sing This Land Is Your Land with him at President Obama's inaugural concert, they'll be back together on stage Sunday — on Seeger's 90th birthday.

A sold-out benefit concert at Madison Square Garden will celebrate Seeger, the folk singer/songwriter who was banished from commercial TV for 17 years.

Seeger says a party for 15,000 isn't his idea of a birthday celebration, even with more than 40 musicians, including Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Arlo Guthrie, whose dad, Woody, taught Seeger how to jump freight trains 60 years ago.

But he agreed to it because it will benefit his Hudson River environmental group. Or, as Seeger puts it, "wooden boats don't last forever."

The boat is a 106-foot sloop, the Clearwater, a floating symbol for the group of the same name that Seeger started in 1966 when the Hudson was an open sewer.

It's healthier now, repopulated by eagles, shad and osprey. But, Seeger says, "a lot remains to be done," including "thousands of dollars of repairs to the boat."

Seeger, who says "small is beautiful," plans to remind the crowd: "It's not always the big things that make a difference, but all the small things done by people who don't get attention."
As the subject of three new books and an updated biography, Seeger says, "I've had too much publicity," even as he talks by phone to a reporter.

He says he's encouraged by Obama's willingness to experiment and "to remind us he can't do it all. We have to help."

He recalls how another president, Herbert Hoover, told Rudy Vallee: "If you can sing a song that makes people forget the Depression, I'll give you a medal."

Says Seeger: "Too many singers have been trying to get that medal."

He's the only star in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to discuss past membership in the Communist Party. His 1955 conviction was overturned on appeal in 1961, but Seeger's blacklisting lasted from 1950 to 1967. Even then, CBS censored his anti-Vietnam War allegory, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.

The man who wrote If I Had a Hammer and Turn, Turn, Turn and helped popularize We Shall Overcome plans to sing one solo Sunday — he won't say which one — and join some choruses.

Asked about being called "a saint" by Bob Dylan, he laughs. "What a terrible thing to call someone. I've made a lot of foolish mistakes over the years."


Clay Eals, Steve Goodman's biographer (Facing The Music), posted a note to the FolkDJ list, drawing attention to the fact that there are going to be MANY celebrations for Pete on May 3. Clay says, "Spurred by the Internet proliferation of an idea advanced by Marie Goonan, a Seeger enthusiast from Melbourne, Australia, a grassroots movement has taken hold to schedule concerts all over the world on May 3, Seeger's 90th, to pay tribute to the legendary musician and humanitarian. Marie's apt and catchy suggestion for a theme for these shows is "For Pete's Sake: Sing!" - he provided a partial list of events below (shows keep getting added every day):

Seattle, WA

You can also sign the petition to encourage Pete Seeger's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize here...

BoyHowdy at Cover Lay Down just posted a wonderful essay, complete with music links, here...

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother's piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I've never understood
Why this is so

But there's an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

QUOTE(S): "As long as we live, there is never enough singing." ~ Martin Luther

"The total person sings not just the vocal chords." ~ Esther Broner

"It was his nature to blossom into song, as it is a tree's to leaf itself in April." ~ Alexander Smith

"Faith and joy are the ascensive forces of song." ~ Edmund Clarence Stedman

"Life is a song. Love is the music." ~ Author Unknown

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