Sometimes I think my entire youth was spent listening to Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, with some Peter, Paul, and Mary thrown in for good measure. There were rows of records, and then rows of tapes, and then rows of cds – but the only two that mattered were Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “10 Years Together” and “Precious Friend” from Arlo and Pete. Not only can I recall every word sung, but I know every bit of dialogue that was spoken as well. Yet I’ll laugh at the jokes every time.
Every road trip we took had those albums for a soundtrack. I guarantee my parents stuck those tapes in the car, no matter how long the trip. The thing about Pete’s singing, is the music isn’t about Pete. It’s not the Pete show. Pete shared his music with you, and invited you to sing along. The music was more important than him. If I know anything – anything at all – about harmony, I probably owe it to him. Even as a teen rolling my eyes, Arlo and Pete could always win me over. Much as I may have tried to not like it, one of the best concerts I’ve probably ever been to was Arlo and Pete at the Northrup Auditorium at the U of M.
But it’s more than singing along. Pete’s music means something. It’s supposed to make you feel something, and drive you to action. It taught me that the world is bigger than what I can see. Pete spent his entire life trying to make the lives of others better, and it made me believe that’s what we’re supposed to do. Not just by sharing his music, but by his activism. He wasn’t afraid to be thrown in jail for his beliefs. He didn’t have Facebook or Twitter, he had music. If he wanted to influence people’s feelings about war, he wrote a song and got people singing it.
I’m quite sure that this upbringing is what draws me to music so strongly. When I don’t know how else to express myself, I know I can find it in a song. It’s cathartic and healing to me, and has – no doubt – saved me thousands in therapy.
I know how grateful I should be for the way Pete Seeger changed music, and all the songs he gave us. But I’m more grateful for the way he changed my outlook on life.
Goodnight, Pete, and thank you.