Pete Seeger at, what, 87! Goin' Strong!

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Ralph
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Pete Seeger at, what, 87! Goin' Strong!

Post by Ralph » Mon May 22, 2006 6:23 am

Seeger wit and vinegar
May 20, 2006. 01:00 AM
MICHAEL HILL
ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEACON, N.Y.—After 87 years, Pete Seeger's voice is down to a husky purr. The head once crammed with hundreds of songs can now call up, by his count, merely dozens.

He still sings and plays banjo, though.

He performs at churches, parties and — what the heck — on a ferry dock on the Hudson River during a recent interview. Commuters heading home from Manhattan look up at the lanky old man tapping his foot, plucking, and jauntily singing, "Ohhh, newspapermen meet such interesting people!"

Some stop and smile. One guy snaps shut his cellphone and shakes Seeger's hand with a hearty: "Mr. Seeger, I just want to thank you!"

Seeger has been singing out like this since the Great Depression. The earnest troubadour who either co-wrote or popularized canonical songs like "If I Had a Hammer" and "John Henry" has become America's folkie emeritus. He's back on the charts, sort of, with the release of We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, featuring Bruce Springsteen's full-throated versions of his standards. The classic songs not only tell good stories, Springsteen has said, but remain relevant.

"Shameful," Seeger deadpanned. "I'm so respectable."

The new album is bringing bushels of fan mail to Seeger's hilltop home north of New York City. And it validates the philosophy he has held since his train-hopping days — the idea that good songs don't go out of style, they just get tweaked from generation to generation. Seeger notes that the album's leadoff track "Old Dan Tucker" was the "No. 1 hit of the year 1844!"

Seeger said he is pleased with the album. But he has a quibble with the song selection, which is heavy on rousing numbers like "Pay Me My Money Down."

"I would have picked some others," he said. "A few serious songs, like `Walking Down Death Row.'"

Then he sings the mournful song.

Seeger marked his 87th birthday May 3 by turning the phone off so he wouldn't have to answer it "every five minutes." Toshi, his wife since 1943, had family and friends for dinner. He said he feels good for his age and stays busy.

"I've got chores to do. Mow the lawn. Clean leaves out of ditches. Shovel gravel. Split firewood. Stack it," he said. "And help my wife."

Seeger is a good talker. He's like a rumbling freight train constantly switching tracks. He segues easily from autobiographical yarns to a conjectural anecdote about Shakespeare helping write the King James Bible to the deer that eat his wife's tulips.

There's still a hint of vinegar in him, too — the strong opinions from years of singing at union halls, colleges, civil rights rallies and peace protests. It's easy to imagine him getting blacklisted in the 1950s after telling the McCarthy committee it was none of their business if he performed for Communists.
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Wallingford
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Post by Wallingford » Mon May 22, 2006 12:54 pm

You know, in MY book, he and Arlo Guthrie are the two most likable performers before the public. In fact, they did at least three "live" albums together. The second one of these, called "Precious Friend," is a real humdinger.

I don't think I'll EVER see both of them together in concert :( , but I was fortunate to see each at a separate venue: Seeger at the Seattle Folklife Festival in '97, Guthrie at the University Of Oregon in '89.
Last edited by Wallingford on Sat May 27, 2006 1:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Mon May 22, 2006 10:32 pm

I've met Seeger a few times - he's very active in the Hudson Valley. Or relatively so given his age. He's an icon.
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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

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