With the Singing of Pete Seeger
I do not know whether some of you are as old as I am. However, I will be attending my 50th college reunion in 2015. I graduated from Muskingum College a half-century ago. A half-century seems like a long time, and it is. As I look back upon that time, I more fully understand my life due what Steve Jobs said at his commencement address at Stanford about connecting the dots.
Here I am now looking back upon nearly 72-years and many of the dots are connecting. It is a wondrous experience to understand things that you partially understood or missed completely. Trust me. As I connect the dots, meaning and understanding whirl within my mind. In the next few minutes, journey back in time and space with me. You might begin connecting some of your dots.
I was born in 1943 during WWII. Several years after the war, my parents invested in a state of the art new technology for the family...it was a Muntz TV. Through that marvelous technological box, I watched Howdy Doody every day. If you came to my parent's home years ago, you could easily see where my younger brother and I sat to watch Howdy Doody due to the worn carpet where we sat.
However, there were other things telecast on that invention back in 1950. One evening, I noticed my parents watching the Weavers singing on our Muntz TV. While I did not realize it at that moment, it was my first time seeing and hearing Pete Seeger who was a member of the Weavers.
That evening, they sang Goodnight Irene, which was a hit back then. Goodnight Irene was the first song that I enjoyed as a young child. At the time, I was just 7-years old and could not memorize the lyrics of the song. Nonetheless, I sang the reframe all the time,
The following video is of the Weavers singing the entire song.
That was my first introduction to Pete Seeger and our lives would morph together over the next handful of decades. Even though I did not notice Pete Seeger, the House Un-American Activities Committee did. That committee was concerned that Seeger was a real and present danger to the American way of life. They were convinced that he was subverting our country by his songs. At that time, the committee was looking for communists everywhere. They were able to find 300-entertainers who the committee thought jeopardized our national security. Some of those godless commies were Orson Wells, Charlie Chaplin, Paul Robeson, and Pete Seeger.
As nonsensical as the House committee was, it paled in comparison to the Army-McCarthy hearings in the Senate, which was a witch-hunt for godless commies on steroids. The birthers and tea party are in many ways similar to the House and Senate committees in their 21st century witch-hunts. They are not looking for godless commies today but are attacking Obama for being born in Kenya and a Muslim extremist. They are as concerned with Obama ruining America as those two committees in the early 50s that Seeger and others were ruining America. It is amazing what seemed obvious a half dozen decades ago is seen as pitifully stupid today. I hope that it does not take the radical right that long to see the folly in the birthers and tea party.
While the beginnings of my relationship with Seeger began with Goodnight Irene, it was in the late 50s and 60s when our paths merged again with his writing and/or singing songs like Where Have All the Flowers Gone.
Then Turn, Turn Turn
What Did You Learn in School Today?
Forever Young. Pete Seeger died at 94...forever young.
If I Had a Hammer
Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream
We Shall Overcome
Now, that is a sampling of the singing of a godless commie who was in the process of destroying America. In fact, it was Seeger and others like Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Joan Baez, and Woody Guthrie of the 60s that held the civil rights movement together with songs.
Interestingly, Margaret Mead wrote, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Seeger and many other singer changed America for the better during the civil rights moment and the various other social movements that followed.
As I look back upon the 60s, I see the dots connecting. The 60s formed much of who I am today. I understand thoroughly what Steve Jobs meant about looking back and connecting the dots.
I have traveled overseas a great deal. I did post-graduate work in Edinburgh, Scotland and lead tours to the Holy Lands and to Greece and Turkey. I have traveled throughout most all of Western and much of Eastern Europe. I taught a class in China and Tibet and have visited all of Indochina, India, parts of Africa, and several Pacific islands. I have benefitted from every place that I have visited...until I visited Myanmar nine months ago. Then it happened. That single trip changed me more than all the other places that I have been in the past half century. Talk about connecting the dots.
I went to Myanmar with the desire to interview Aung San Suu Kyi. However, I was not able to contact her. Nonetheless, I interviewed Min Ko Naing for my webpage and spoke with many others while in Myanmar. In a month of traveling in the Myanmar golden triangle, I returned to the States different from when I left.
Interestingly, I happened to have a routine checkup with Dr. Marchand a couple of days after returning from Myanmar. I asked him about why I had changed. His reply was that I had seen the light. Moreover, I had...the light helped me connect the dots.
While I was in Yangon, Min Ko Naing invited me to Myanmar's Independence Day luncheon. I was able to meet several of the old guard of the 8888 Uprising in Burma. While we were eating, he leaned over to me and asked me a question, which he already knew my response. He asked whether I wanted to go to a protest rally at Sule Pagoda that afternoon. Sule Pagoda was the epicenter of the 8888 Uprising 26-years ago in Yangon.
I went to the rally for several hours and walked around looking at what we would call a civil rights protest in the late 50s. While observing the protest at Sule Pagoda, my mind drifted back to the civil rights moment in and States. I could hear, We Shall Overcome, which Pete Seeger and some of the other godless commies like Joan Baez sang back then.
An aside to my experiences in Myanmar and the States in January of 2014, Pete Seeger was hospitalized at New York's Presbyterian Hospital. Interestingly, while reading about his death, I discovered another dot. His uncle was Alan Seeger who wrote I Have a Rendezvous with Death. When I was in high school, I read Alan Seeger's poem and memorized parts of it.
Another interesting dot was connected. I happened upon the following painting, which is an artistic update of van Gogh's Starry Night.
Jack and Owen, my two youngest grandchildren and also my two youngest art history students, love Vincent van Gogh. Jack knows van Gogh's Starry Night and has since he was three.
Finally, regarding Pete Seeger's death just after my return from Myanmar, President Obama saw him as "America's tuning fork." Obama said, "Over the years, Pete used his voice and his hammer to strike blows for workers' rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation, and he always invited us to sing along. For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger."
My only addition to Obama's tribute is "Amen. Pete Seeger helped millions and me come alive during our lifetimes."
This is Pete Seeger singing at Obama's 2009 inauguration.
This is Pete Seeger's explaining the development of We Shall Overcome.
Visit the On Seeing the Light page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Connecting the Dots page to read more about this topic.
Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.
Visit The Mentors and Me page to read more about this topic.