I did a post on Pete Seeger titled Pete Seeger & Songs of My Life in 2010. In it, I wrote of the photos I had taken at the White Springs Florida Folk Festival, “He just turned 91, so I’d better have them ready for an obit. I hope it’s later, not sooner, though.” I invite you to revisit those photos.
I woke up this morning at 5:10 to get a drink. As is my habit, I hit the keyboard to wake up the computer see if we were at war with anybody new. The lead headline that come up was that the clock had run out on Pete at age 94.
You can say it is unexpected when someone who is 94 dies of natural causes, but it’s still a shock when a national icon passes.
This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender
It’s funny how two photos that don’t even show Pete are my favorites from that evening in the spring of 1977.
No posse, no entourage
After the performance, Pete stuck around backstage to sign autographs, pose for photos and to talk with his admirers, one and all. Then, when nobody had anything else to say, Pete hoisted up his banjo and guitar and a box and walked out into the night. I thought about that exit when I read what Arlo Guthrie wrote this morning.
He passed away. That doesn’t mean he’s gone
Arlo, the son of Woodie Guthrie, and a long-time friend and fellow performer, posted this this morning.
I let him know I was having trouble writing his obituary (as I’d been asked) but it seemed just so silly and I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound trite or plain stupid. “They’ll say something appropriate in the news,” we agreed. We laughed, we talked, and I took my leave about 9:30 last night.
“Arlo” he said, sounding just like the man I’ve known all of my life, “I guess I’ll see ya later.” I’ve always loved the rising and falling inflections in his voice. “Pete,” I said. “I guess we will.”
I turned off the light and closed my eyes and fell asleep until very early this morning, about 3 AM when the texts and phone calls started coming in from friends telling me Pete had passed away.
“Well, of course he passed away!” I’m telling everyone this morning. “But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.”
I’ve spent most of this trip interviewing folks who lived in what we called South Cape. I’ve learned some things about that area that most of us “north of the hill” – Tollgate Hill – never knew.I'[ve heard tales of prejudice and discrimination in Cape – and the amazing lack of it in some other cases.
It’s going to take some time for me to boil it down and digest it. I need to talk with more folks, but it’s time for me to saddle up and head back to Florida.
Today was a wrapping-up day. The car had to go in for a minor repair; I was supposed to pick up some rubber stamps (not in); I roamed around shooting some quick topics to give me stuff to post while I’m on the road. One of my stops was to say goodbye to Friend Shari’s mother, LaFern.
(She thinks I’m a witch or a genius – she said it was the latter, but the look in her eye let me know it was the former – because I brought her dead computer back to life just by pressing the ON button.) As a reward, she gave me a 1944 Cape County telephone directory. (You can click on the images to make them larger.)
Cape County Restaurants
Like most people, the first thing I did was check for family connections – I recognized some. Then I leafed through the classifieds to do a light-weight piece on businesses that had come and gone. When I got to Page 32, which covered Rental Agencies (see Real Estate) to Service Stations (see Filling Stations), I thought I had found an easy and popular topic: Restaurants.
Then, I saw the heading that appeared BELOW Restaurants.
When did this become unacceptable?
I wrote about Brother Mark and me hitting a bunch of antique shops in 2008. I ran across this set of postcards for sale and said, in part, “I saw a reminder of just how far we’ve come in this country. One night this week we’re watching Barack Obama stumping to be President of the United States and a day later, we’re looking at a collection of black memorabilia of the most racially offensive nature I ever recall seeing.
There wasn’t a stereotype left untouched. Lil Black Sambo and Aunt Jemima were tame compared to this stuff.
I’m not knocking the antique shop for carrying it. It’s probably valuable to see how crap like this was acceptable at one time.”
“I’m not going to point any moral”
With apologies to The Beatles, “I read the news today, oh, boy.”
We’re going through a period of anger and angst about another group looking for its civil rights.
I was trading some messages with bicycling buddy Annie O’Reilly the other day when Pete Seeger’s name came up. I mentioned that I had seen Pete in concert three or four times and photographed him in May, 1977, when he played in White Springs, FL. I said that I’d keep my eyes out for the pictures while I was working on the Cape project. “He just turned 91, so I’d better have them ready for an obit. I hope it’s later, not sooner, though.”
I’ll toss up his photos, along with random thoughts about the music of my life.
A Bushel and A Peck
One of the first songs I can remember from my childhood is A Bushel and A Peck, with the lines, “I love you a bushel and a peck, A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” I don’t know if Mother would sing it to me or if it was just a phrase she’d use like, “Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
My freshman debate partner, John Mueller, owned everyKingston Trio album ever cut, so I got introduced to Tom Dooley, M.T.A, Sloop John B, 500 Miles and Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Of course, I learned later that their rather saccharine versions of those songs had been done much more robustly by earlier singers, including Pete, but it was still a nice introduction to folk music.
Joan Baez and Bob Dylan
Marty Cearnal, a SEMO college student who worked at Nowell’s Camera shop introduced me to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to make of Dylan, but that Joan sure could sing purty.
They make Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right sound pretty. It wasn’t until I discovered Bob Dylan’s version that I appreciated the off-hand way Bob kinda verbally shrugs his shoulders as he dismisses a relationship gone sour because “I gave her my heart, but she wanted my soul.”
After I published the story, Carol Towarnicky, a college friend, reminded me that the concert had been held April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King had been killed.
The thing I love about folks singers is that they really care for the message they’re delivering and they really care for their fans. After the PP&M show, the trio stuck around for an hour or more talking to the campus reporters and their fans. You’ll see Pete is the same way.
Florida Folk Festival
I was looking to replace a color film processor for The Post and wanted to see one like it in operation. The nearest one was at The Gainesville Sun. I noticed that Pete Seeger was scheduled to perform at White Springs, not far from there. Figuring I’d get a two-fer out of the trip, I planned to look at the processor, then go to the concert.
I ended up buying the film processor, but the high point of the trip was watching Pete up close. Unlike bigger venues, we were right up with him.
This Machine Surrounds Hate
We were close enough that we could clearly read the signature motto on Pete’s banjo: THIS MACHINE SURROUNDS HATE AND FORCES IT TO SURRENDER. With all the hate speech in the news these days, we need Pete more than ever.
I like Pete’s message better than Woodie Guthrie’s banjo that read, “This machine kills Fascists.”
Pete brings the crowd along
You aren’t a spectator at a Pete Seeger concert, you’re a participant. Grandparents, parents and grandkids are all pulled into the show. If you don’t know the song lyrics – and that’s rare for his fans – he’ll coach you along.
After the show
It’s after the show that Pete’s decency and humanity came through. There were a few reporters hanging around, but the room backstage was filled with regular folks and their kids who wanted an autograph, a photo or just to talk to the man who is a national treasure.
He took time to talk with everyone and to make each of them feel special. I didn’t see him show any impatience or try to rush anyone through.
Where’s his entourage?
When he had finally talked with everyone who wanted to meet him, he hoisted his guitar and banjo over his shoulder and walked out. This isn’t a fellow who demands a dressing room with the right color of M&Ms in it.
I’m struck by how young Pete looks in these photos, although I thought he looked old when I took him in 1977. He was born in 1919, so he was about 60 when these photos were taken. I guess when you’re 30, 60 looks old.
Pete Seeger Photo Gallery
Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the photo to move through the gallery.