Singing to Save the World
Remembering Pete Seeger's legacy of promoting music and harmony for all
"Sing to Save the World" was this paper's "fit to print" headline over a huge photo and succinct story, by then-editor Marty Lipp. This glowing account of the January 1992 standing-room-only concert at Hunter College was subtitled, "Pete Seeger and his rainbow chorus singing harmony and about it." As a great believer in Pete Seeger's mission, to get everyone singing along, and for music that enables harmony, I was thrilled to be there, too.
If you remember nothing else from this column, indeed from the magnificent work of Pete Seeger, whose January 2014 departure from this life was mourned worldwide, remember his words to Marty Lipp during that 1992 concert's rehearsal: "The lifetime hope of mine is not to just put music in the ears of people, but on their lips."
This hope was noted all too briefly in the "paper of record's" extensive story, with infinitely more said about the political and social causes Seeger espoused mostly through folk music. Unlike today's pop sounds, folk music was harmonious to boomer and senior sensibilities. It was intergenerational and G-rated.
Did the change in pop music trouble Seeger? The Times did say that "like many elders of the protest song movement, Mr. Seeger felt betrayed when Bob Dylan set aside protest songs for electric guitar rock, and at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, with loud electric blues band, some listeners booed and reports emerged that Mr. Seeger tried to cut the power cable with an ax." Not true, but this man for non-violence said he was angry because "the music was so loud and distorted you couldn't understand the words."
Nowadays, sometimes that's better. I wish Seeger, who did so much to clean up the Hudson River, had also protested not only these concerts' extreme decibel level, but the huge amount of electricity that fuels them and the obligatory blinding theatrical lighting. Current environmentalists, instead of demanding that volume and wattage be sensibly reduced, ban the bio-degradable, non-toxic, perfect everyday lighting of the incandescent light bulb.
Too little noted or lauded was Pete Seeger's personal life, and his 70 year marriage to Toshi, who died in 2013. And we sure could use some protest songs against those celebs and pols who betray their good and faithful help-mates. Protest as well society's mandate to segregate generations, especially in families. That's really radical, and yet to save the world, it takes a village - of family members when they exist - plus an intergenerational mix of friends, neighbors and faith and civic group members.
Incidentally, Valentine's Day is definitely not only about couple love. There's a song about paternal love that devoted father Pete Seeger might have said should "really get out there." Again, I'm touting my son Jeff's country-style ballad about an absentee, and now very repentant daddy, who longs to get back into the life of his little daughter on her sixth birthday. "Happy Birthday to a Little Girl" was premiered by the New Amsterdam Boys and Girls Choir, composed mainly of Spanish Harlem-based youngsters. Pete Seeger was one of the choir's original sponsors. Founder and director James Backman hopes to get the song on YouTube.
But oh, how Pete Seeger's missions and music need to be permanently/prominently featured in cyberspace too, especially his "life-time hope not only to put music in people's ears, but on their lips." Harmony-building music, that is.
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