It was a rough week. I was certain our National Treasure, Mr. Pete Seeger, was going to live forever. It is comfort to know that his words and music will always be with us. The man set a gold-standard example of walking the talk by LIVING the talk. My favorite quote about Mr. Seeger is a tribute line delivered by Bruce Springsteen at the May 3, 2009 Clearwater benefit concert:
“Pete, you outlived the bastards.”
You see, Pete used his birthday as a grand excuse for a concert to raise money for a cause very close to him, the sloop Clearwater. Back in the 1960’s Pete thought that if he could get folks to come out on the Hudson River so they could see for themselves how pollution was affecting the environment, they would clean up “all the shit in the river.” The quotation marks in that last sentence are mine, but if my memory serves, that is exactly what Pete said at the concert that night as he talked about the genesis of Clearwater. G-man and I attended this show, and how could you not? The price of a ticket was the year of Pete’s birth: $19.19. And you sure got your money’s worth of since there were about forty performers that night; humbled performers who knew that Pete never took the easy way as an artist. He was a man who stood up to the bullying tactics of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and wasn’t recognized until many years later for having that leonine courage of his convictions. If we’re truly honest how many of us can say we would have been able to do the same?
Despite my sadness at Seeger’s passing I feel a renewed sense of responsibility for the generations who will follow me. Pete lived a full and vigorous life until his death this week at ninety-four. It’s time for others to take up where he has left off. Despite his heroic, ongoing effort there is plenty of opportunity in this broken world for us all to pick up a little bit of the slack. So let’s all try to outlive the bastards, and give a damn.
Because even a little help matters to someone, somewhere, sometime.