For Pete’s Sake: Pete Seeger passes at age 94

Pete Seeger & Larry Long 1980

Pete Seeger was a giant of a man, who walked humbly on this earth.  He changed the course of history by changing the lives of everyone he met.  He inspired us all to be a little less selfish and more courageous in our giving.  He carried the memories of the people in the songs he wrote, the songs he sang, the stories he told, and the decisions he made daily to stand for justice from wherever he stood.   

Pete Seeger co-wrote We Shall Overcome during the Mississippi Freedom Summer campaign in 1964.   He was a World War II veteran who was a champion of the labor and anti-Vietnam War movement, as well.

Pete Seeger was truly a remarkable man.  He cared deeply for his neighbors, and we cared for him, because the entire world was his neighborhood.   His kitchen table was filled with letters that arrived daily from those who loved him.  He would separate those letters in piles and meticulously go through each one of them with hand written responses in the margins or on postcards with a sketch of a banjo by his name, Pete.

I met Pete Seeger through the former Farmer-Labor Governor of Minnesota, Elmer Benson.   After singing songs in support of the family farmer in the American Agriculture Movement’s strike office in Appleton, Minnesota, Governor Benson said, “You remind me of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.   Pete and Woody use to travel through Minnesota and sing for the lumberjacks and miners who were on strike.”

One month later, after arriving in Washington DC on a hundred mile long tractorcade for parity, I get a call from Pete Seeger through Governor Benson’s prompting, who shared stories with me about singing for striking dairy farmers at our nation’s capitol and gave me encouragement to keep singing for the people.

When they honored Governor Elmer Benson at the Prom Center in St. Paul in the late 70’s Pete brought me up on stage to sing with him.

I loved him as a father.  I loved him as a friend.   I would call him up on the phone at odd hours from the road. Sometimes we would talk for hours. Other times for only a few minutes, but no matter how long we talked, I always felt a whole lot better after we did. Conversations with Pete had no end, they just kept flowing into laughter and inspiration to keep on trying to make this world a little bit better than what it was when it was handed down to us.

I was asked to perform at Madison Square Garden with Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Kris Kristofferson, Richie Havens, and others for his 90th Birthday celebration, which raised funds for the Clearwater Project Pete founded to help save the Hudson River. The moment most remembered was when Pete Seeger sang Amazing Grace and all 20,000 people stood up singing.

Pete Seeger gave us all a voice and the encouragement to keep on singing and making a

As Pete told me years ago,  “Try and do a good job with the people you know near you. It’s nice to travel. But – and I suppose while you’re young it’s the best time to travel. You can learn by traveling. The world can be your University, as Maxim Gorky once said.  But in the long run, find this part of the world that you really like that you can stick to.  It might be the same town you were raised in, but it might be another place. It might be a valley, it might be a desert, it might be a swamp, but find some area that you really like enough, so you’re going to stick there the rest of your life.”

Pete then shared, “Everywhere I go I tell this: When I meet somebody who says there’s really no hope – – you know, things are going to get from worse to worse, and this is the last century of the human race, I tell them: ‘Did you expect to see our great Watergate president leave office the way he did?’ They say, ‘No, I guess I didn’t. I say, ‘Did you expect the Pentagon to have to leave Vietnam the way it did?’ They say, ‘No, I didn’t.’ I say, ‘Did you expect to see the Berlin Wall come down so peacefully, the way it did?’ They say, ‘No, I really didn’t expect that.’ Then I say, ‘Did you expect to see Mandela head of South Africa?’ They say, ‘Oh no, no I really didn’t expect that, I thought he’d rot in jail forever, the rest of his life.’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘If you couldn’t predict those things, don’t be confident that you can predict there’s no hope.”

It’s now our turn to carry that torch of justice, equity, and freedom out into the world. We’ve got work to do.  There’s a job to be done.  The future of our children depends upon it!

For Pete’s Sake

For Pete’s sake keep those rivers clean
The Hudson, Amazon, Volga, Nile, Yangtze, Ganges, Mississippi

There ain’t no body in the whole wide world like Pete (2x)
There ain’t nobody in the whole wide world
Like each and every boy and girl
There ain’t nobody in the whole wide world like Pete

For Pete’s sake find a place you love to be
Stick with it, care for it
The whole world depends on it
All it takes is one good song
To help the world sing-a-long

Sail away, sail away, sail on Clearwater
Sail away, sail away, sail on Clearwater

Words & music by Larry Long

Copyright Larry Long 2014 / BMI