A fine man has passed with the announcement of the death of musician, environmental activist, and political campaigner Peter Seeger.
In an age where so much of our culture, music, and public life is both synthetic and over-complicated, there was always something deeply attractive about a man who lived with a deep puritan authenticity.
He was always true to himself in his beliefs, in his social interactions, his music and his causes.
He was not an orthodox Christian, but was brought up in what he described as an “enormously Christian” home. He was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church and described his faith in the following terms
“I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. I used to say I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”
Brother Ivo suspects that this will not prove a bar to his welcome into the Kingdom of Heaven,
He plainly lived true to that part of God which he recognised and understood, not least in a quiet low key love of his fellow man, and of nature, which he celebrated in his devotion to the Hudson river
There was a little of the William Morris about him. His banjo was a beautiful hand made instrument and was adapted to his own needs and style, being three frets longer than the standard instrument to enable his to sing more comfortably.
It was adorned with a slogan.
Unlike his friend Woody Guthrie, whose guitar declared “This Machine kills fascists”,Pete Seeger’s banjo proclaimed the altogether more gentle “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”. That expresses the greatness of the man
He believed in many causes whether they were fashionable or not. He was called before the House of Un-American activities because of his communist sympathies.He was a strong opponent of the Vietnam War and a supporter of the Civil Rights movement to which he gave its iconic song “We shall overcome”.
Above all however, he was a gentle American icon, who loved people and brought them together in its music, whether he was singing to migrant field hands in the open air or to the nation’s Leaders at the White House.
The simplicity of his music reflected an approach to life that was rooted in his Christian upbringing. He would have been puzzled by the focus group, the spin doctor, and the talking point.
Does one not simply say what one believes?
He believed that nothing was more musical, and nothing more peace making than inviting people to join together in song, whatever the musical ability of his audience. His was not the art of the polished talent, the complex harmony or the recording studio.
When Pete offered an invitation an audience to sing along to his banjo or 12 string guitar, they did so unselfconsciously, regardless of ability, because he appealed to their common humanity and that which brought people together, whatever their politics, beliefs or faith.
He was a fine example to musicians and political activists alike but above all, he was an apostle for unity, integrity and justice and for that, his life should be celebrated.