“Old devil time, I’m goin’ to fool you now!
“Old devil time, you’d like to bring me down!
“When I’m feeling low, my lovers gather ‘round
“And help me rise to fight you one more time!
“No storm nor fire can ever beat us down,
“No wind that blows but carries us further on.
“And you who fear, oh lovers, gather ‘round
“And we can rise and sing it one more time!”
“OLD DEVIL TIME,” PETE SEEGER, 1969
When a person like folk singer Pete Seeger dies, part of a generation dies with him. We remember the words. They were “Kisses Sweeter than Wine.”
Pete was rarely on commercial radio. In the easy-listening era of Perry Como and Dean Martin, his civil-rights music was banned from radio due to his controversial challenges to establishment power.
We had to suffer the weak signal from WCLV-FM in the Terminal Tower in Cleveland to hear him. He was a staple on Bob Conrad’s “Saturday Night,” our first brush with the folk phenomenon. For 20 years, he influenced all of popular music as he wrote for megastars such as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan, Ritchie Havens and Simon and Garfunkel.
By then, he, too, was a reluctant star.
Pete did not fit the rock-star mold, a welcome reprieve from what was becoming machine music. He was not beautiful or even ugly-beautiful. He looked everyday in his old baseball cap and jeans, a homey front-porch type with his bloodhound asleep at his boots. He never changed an inch.
His typical concert began, “Hi, I’m Pete Seeger. Let’s sing these songs together.” And we did, until our voices gave out. There were few campfires without Pete Seeger songs.
Seeger had the ability to connect, especially when his banjo got warmed up. I heard him at William and Mary College. After the show, he went outside and played a half-dozen tunes for the folks who did not have tickets.
Pete reflected our loves, our worries, our deep mistrust of Johnson and Nixon. He shaped our times, focusing us on real thoughts and not those sugary love songs on AM radio.
He eventually parted ways with the pop culture and its adulation of sex, money and drugs. He always maintained that lyrics were more important than melodies.
HE SET THE TABLE
Teaming with the Weavers, Seeger set the table for a national folk movement and outlived nearly all of its foundation players. As new generations have come along, and our old worries have dissipated, he is often forgotten, even though his job remains unfinished.
Pete Seeger, gone from us at age 94, 10 days after chopping wood for a campfire.
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