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Monday, 24 January 2011

An Encounter With a Guy With a Big and Bobbing Adam's Apple

By Alan Stewart who blogs from Hong Kong at Conversare

Reviewing several of Saul Friedman’s wondrous columns, I came across his lovely tribute to Pete Seeger. This prompted me to relate this remarkable, recent personal experience.

When planning to go to a conference in August of last year to be held near Albany in upstate New York, I had a thought. Pete Seeger lives somewhere en route and I wonder about the possibility of meeting with him. Like Saul and countless others, I have been a great admirer of him for many years.

This was enhanced when I heard him interviewed a couple of years ago and transcribed this excerpt:

"Participation is the key to the future of the human race. Participation in families, in politics...Participation will save the human race - if we are saved."

And enhanced further by a friend in Seattle sending me a copy of the then newly released DVD on Pete’s life story entitled, The Power of Song complemented by recordings of many of his songs. (I would say that his rendition on this of Jacob’s Ladder is spine-tingling in its harmony).

I wrote to Seeger snailmail in care of a community club in his area to say that I would be passing by and why I would love to say hello to him. Then I put it out of my mind.

Imagine my astonishment and utter delight when the day before I was to travel from London to New York, through the mailbox came a letter from - Pete!

He noted, hand written, “I am curious to meet you, let me know which train you'll be on and I will pick you up at the station.” Which he did and drove me to his home, age 91.

Where I met Toshi, his wife. And had a great conversation with Pete about his inimitable way of engaging with his audiences and also about his connection with Paul Robeson.

He gave me a signed copy of his new book, Where Have All The Flowers Gone (a singalong memoir) which has the stories and lyrics of the songs he has composed or adapted.

This graphic from the book is one that I now bring to people’s attention in my work as a facilitator of conversations that matter and participatory fun for it suggests to me very poignantly our place in the scheme of things and how petty are our complaints.

I wonder how this simple diagrammatic statement resonates with you?

You are here. c1985 Harrell Graham

On the return journey to the train station, Pete sang a verse he had composed to add to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now.

New Verse For An Older Person to Sing:

Daughter, Daughter, don’t you know
You’re not the first to feel just so,
But let me say before I go,
It’s worth it anyway.

Some day we may all be surprised,
We’ll wake up and open up our eyes,
And then we all will realize
The whole world feels this way.

We’ve all been living upside down,
And turned around with love unfound,
Until we turn and face the sun;
Yes all of us, every one.

About this, Seeger wrote: “I first heard Joni’s song on a car radio, added a fourth verse suitable for my age and got a nice letter from Joni permitting me to sing it.”

At the station he dropped me at the entrance, went on to park his car and then came to the platform to say cheerio.

What a generous-spirited person. And what a memory to treasure and to share.

If you wish to know more about the man, his recent reflections on what matters in life and about how he came to have leanings towards what is now labeled “communism” see, More Optimistic Today Than Ever: A Talk with Pete Seeger.

Pete Seeger outside his original home at Beacon, New York. Photo by Alan. 30 July 2010

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


As all of the folk singers I know would agree, Pete has been our most profound influence--not just for his songs, but for his indefatigable activism, humanity and spirit.I have been proud to have known him AND his songs for over 40 years. The world needs more Petes.

Wow! What a marvelous experience to meet this remarkable man. He is not only a true humanitarian, fantastic musician, but is also gracious.

Thank you for sharing.

Thanks for sharing a delightful encounter with us! Made my day...

At Seattle's 1997 International Folklife Festival, my two kids got to sing with Pete onstage as part of a big Labor Day celebration. Their small alternative school had chosen the theme of "Work and Work Songs" and rehearsed and studied for months to prepare for their performances.Pete was gracious and sweet with the students and my kindergarten son's face ended up on the front page of our newspaper!

It pays to give it a try, as you asked to meet Pete. I enjoy his work, too.

He is a fantastic man. I marvel at his many wonderful traits but I think maybe generosity says it best. What a man!

Thank you for a close up visit with Pete Seeger..PBS & a Long Island station do his concerts a few times a year and I just love to sing along with him and his gang..He is a national treasure for sure..I actually sang the lyrics you supplied, thanks for that treat too...

Thanks for connecting the visuals and music with the manifestation of your experience Alan. The words are a timeless reminder of lessons still to be learnt and shared.

Lovely to note what special memories the story of my visit with Pete Seeger evoked. Also the recognition that this wonderful meeting did not ‘just happen.’ For it arose through my visualizing what could emerge from taking the initiative. And from the graciousness and generosity of Pete and Toshi’s response in inviting me to their home.

From which I have indelible memories of the astonishing warmth of their welcome and of our particular conversation. This is now reflected in much of what I do.

Plus the story will likely resonate with many others, as is starting to happen already around our little planet, 3rd from the sun. For example a friend in Sydney commented:
“The ‘You are here’ diagram is a wonderful tool for getting things into perspective. Thanks J
I’ll bet Pete Seeger saw a real connection with you and your focus on ‘participation’ which he saw as so crucial.”

Another in Singapore wrote:
“i spent some sweet time on youtube watching a bunch of Pete’s videos, and also reading the touching comments on your article. And I love the extra verse he wrote to ‘Both Sides Now’.
Good to know you are engaging in Conversare all around the globe....from both sides now.
Wow, cheers to BEing and spreading LIGHT and LOVE and PEACE,”

Copies of my story and Saul Friedman’s ‘Reflections’, with the associated readers’ comments, will shortly be mailed to Pete and Toshi. May they also receive much joy from these items created through Ronni’s good offices.

Looking forward
Go well

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