I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
January 28, 2014 - 12:45 p.m.
It so often happens that some celebrity dies and I see people making a big deal of it on Facebook and think, "what's the big deal? People die every day and _____ was just not that special." Not today. Last night Pete Seeger died and that's a loss to the world and a personal loss to me.
I know the first time I saw Pete, it was his first appearance on the Smother's Brothers Show in 1967. I was 10. My parents told me about him being blacklisted. I heard him sing and was hooked. I've been listening to him longer than anyone. I somehow don't remember the first time I saw him. I remember seeing him with a friend around 1980 but I had already seen him. She never had but she spotted him first because I told her that he'd be wearing a funny hat. It was phase he was in then. I think it was the orange ski cap but I could be off by 20 years with that.
I discovered other folk singers and entered the folk world but it always felt to me that everybody else was aspiring to be Pete, he was the platonic ideal. He was an institution but never stopped being a human being. In a world of over-earnest singers he was always exactly the right degree of earnest. Nobody was more politically committed but he never hit you over the head. He was always gentle. He'd teach through parables and homilies and song. He always had a sense of humor. I never saw Pete do a show and not be funny. He wasn't afraid of being silly. He wasn't afraid of the House un-Americans activity committee. He wasn't afraid of much.
Clearwater was pure genius. He didn't just tell people about the environment. He didn't just scare them with warnings. He got people down to the beautiful Hudson and let the River get people to care. He made it personal. You weren't saving the world, you were saving this thing, right in your backyard, that was glorious but gravely ill. Now you can fish in that same river from a Manhattan pier. There's a scene in Law & Order where the detectives go to the River and see people fishing and Lenny Briscoe says "God bless Pete Seeger."
I have tears in my eyes as I write this.
Unfairly people forget that Pete was first and foremost a musician. The man could play banjo! He could sing. He could play a song with no social relevance and move you. He could do that even singing in a foreign language that you couldn't understand. How many songs did he know? He had the songs he wrote and the ones he made famous but he could always pull another rabbit out of his hat. It didn't have to be folk. He could turn "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" into an anthem at a festival; make you hear it in a totally new way.
Pete always said that music was not something you heard but something you made. He enlisted the audience as his backup singers every show. You never felt awkward singing along with Pete. You didn't feel awkward if you didn't but you were missing something essential.
Pete was not a demi-god. He was a human and made mistakes. He was a prototype Useful Idiot, used by the Soviet Union. The Almanac singers that also included Woody Guthrie sang and talked pacifism as Nazi Germany invaded Poland and France but had a non-aggression pact with the USSR. It was only after Germany broke the pact that the patriotic war songs started.
I give Pete tremendous credit for admitting his mistake. He left the Communist party and became a communist with a small "c." I can't find a reference but I remember him saying he was a communist in the same sense the American Indians were.
I saw Pete when I was young and he was middle-aged. I saw him when I was middle-aged and he was old. I saw him when I was in later middle age and he was very old. In all the times that I saw him I never left without feeling better than when I went in. In the end that matters to me more than anything. That's what I will miss.
This is what I'm listening to today.
Brother Brothers in Arms - October 01, 2017
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