The Christmas star dimmed

It’s not easy to diminish Christmas. But Christmas star shines just a little less brightly this year in a world that’s lost Pete and Toshi Seeger.




Like the morning sun you come and like the wind you go…

Got some things to talk about, here beside the rising tide…

The title of this post — of course! — is from the song “Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead.

Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to…
I’ve been staying recently in my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.

A time to mourn…
One morning a few weeks ago I acted on an impulse and visited my father’s grave — more specifically his pullout drawer high up in the marble wall of a creepy mausoleum in Hartsdale, N.Y.

To everything there is a season…

The depraved piped-in organ music and the sickly funeral-home smell of flowers got me thinking about my own funeral plans.

Little trip to heaven…
Basically I have no plans. I do know I’d like to be cremated. I do know I don’t want a funeral.

Imagine all the people….
I think I’d like my friends and family to gather for an informal nondenominational memorial celebration.

May you stay…forever young…
I’d like my younger daughter to read one of her poems. I’d like my son to play something on his guitar. I’d like my older daughter to choose and read some samples of my own writing.

No need for greed…no hunger….
I’d like donations to me made in my memory of anti-hunger groups, peace groups or literacy groups.

And…most important of all perhaps…

May your song always be sung…

I’d like there to be a really good sound system set up
to play these songs (in no particular order):
“Uncle John’s Band” by the Grateful Dead
“Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles
“Little Trip to Heaven” by Tom Waits
A Bach cantata
“Forever Young” by Bob Dylan
“Turn Turn Turn” by Pete Seeger
“Amazing Grace” (no bagpipes, please!)
and, of course, “Imagine” by John Lennon

Someone who’s more than dear to me wants her final farewell to include Eva Cassidy’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World…”

My poor father requested “Ave Maria.”

So many other songs would be appropriate and meaningful and sprung from the heart. So maybe I’ll add a few more songs and someone can burn a CD…it would make a nice departing gift for everyone in the studio audience to take home — and take to heart.

If they ain’t got that do-re-mi…

The title of this post refers, of course, to the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Woody Guthrie — which is perfectly apt, since Woody’s buddy Pete Seeger is lending his voice to a campaign to raise money for the trailblazing Sing Out! magazine, which has hit a fiscal sour note as it marks its 60th year of publication.

Here’s Pete:

And here’s a treat. Woody sings about how folks treat you if you ain’t got that “Do-Re-Mi”:

A party for Pete

Yes, I’m talkin’ Pete Seeger. No, I’m not talkin’ about the Communist Party or the Wobblies or any of those sorts of parties and movements. I’m talking about how there will be a movement of about 19,000 people into Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 3, when dozens of great musicians will gather to celebrate the amazing Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday!

Some of the performers who will be on hand to honor Pete:
Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, John Mellencamp, Ani DiFranco, Bela Fleck, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack, Richie Havens, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal, Dar Williams, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Tom Paxton, Toshi Reagon, Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger…and, of course, Arlo Guthrie.

Limited ticket sales began today (March 23) and general ticket sales begin next Monday, March 30. Tickets are pricey — the good seats are hundreds of dollars and even the cheap seats are $90 each (for Pete’s 90th birthday). But proceeds from the show will benefit a great cause — the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which set sail more than three decades ago — stewarded by Pete Seeger — to protect and restore Pete’s beloved Hudson River and other waterways.

Here’s a video of Arlo singing Pete’s great song “Golden River:”

The Clearwater movement’s close to my heart since I grew up on the New York side of the Hudson River. As for Pete, one of the highlights of my life was meeting Pete years ago and having the honor of hosting him as he performed two benefit shows — about 10 years ago, when he was a young buck of about 80 years old — to raise money for a charity I’d started called the Delaware Valley Holiday Fund. Pete, grandson Tao and Pete’s beautiful wife Toshi drove all the down from Beacon, N.Y., to western New Jersey, put on a show in a packed high-school auditorium, then drove right back home to Beacon, and the only compensation they received was a basket full of sandwiches and fruit and cakes to sustain them for that long drive back to their home up on the Hudson. A year later, Pete and Toshi were back, doing another benefit show for our charity, this time outdoors, once again free-of-charge, at a park in Pennsylvania along the Delaware River.

This is what Pete Seeger’s been doing for 90 years. Helping people, fighting for justice, singing songs of peace, dispelling hate and spreading love. Happy birthday, Pete!

Take It From Mr. Seeger

America! Ya gotta love it!

David Letterman, to his credit, had Pete Seeger on “Late Night” last night. Pete was there to promote his CD “At 89,” which hit store shelves today, and performed the song “Take It From Dr. King” with a four-member band that included Pete’s incredibly talented grandson Tao Rodriguez.

Pete Seeger's still singing and strumming at age 89
Pete Seeger

Pete was in fine voice — and even got the audience clapping and singing along, no easy task when you’re performing in a place that’s not exactly Carnegie Hall or a union rally — on a TV talk show set at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Then again, if Pete Seeger can’t get a crowd of people singin’ and clappin’, then no one can — and the world would be in bigger trouble than it is already.

So why the “America! Ya gotta love it!” exclamation? Because someone decided that Pete should be the last “guest” on the 90-minute show and should just perform one song and didn’t need to be interviewed. And who was came out to sit on Dave’s couch BEFORE Pete got to perform his one song? Julia Louis-Dreyfus (formerly of Seinfeld and now of The New Adventures of Old Christine) and Michael Cera (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist)

Anyway, here’s a link to the video of Pete singing “Taking It From Dr. King” on the recent PBS documentary:

And here’s a link — — with information on how to order Pete’s new CD.

If you move your cursor over to my list of categories and click on music, you’ll find an essay I wrote previously about my encounters with Pete Seeger.

Finally, here’s a link to a good, thorough biography of the remarkable Mr. Seeger:

Pete Seeger keeps on singing

I’ve written about my encounters with Pete Seeger. Here’s some good news: The 89-year-old icon is putting out at album — titled, appropriately, “At 89.”

Here’s an article from Billboard magazine:

Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger

Folk legend Pete Seeger will release his first new album of studio recordings in five years this fall. The 32-track “At 89,” a nod to Seeger’s age, is due Sept. 30 via Appleseed Recordings.

According to a spokesperson, the material ranges from new takes on old favorites, vintage songs that have never appeared on an album and short banjo, guitar and recorder pieces.

Seeger will play a handful of shows through the end of the year, including his annual Seeger and Guthrie Thanksgiving concert on Nov. 29 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Asked earlier this year by Billboard what his legacy will be, Seeger replied, “My family will remember me, and a few others. I’m one of a lot of songwriters. There’ll be more important things to think about. Mostly I’d urge people, don’t make heroes out of anybody. I’ve made a huge number of mistakes with my family, in singing and in politics, all sorts. So don’t copy what I’ve done. Please, make your own mistakes. Don’t make my mistakes over again.”

How can he keep from singing?

That’s a play on the title of a biography — “How Can I Keep From Singing?” — of folk singer and activist Pete Seeger. As if we need further evidence that 89-year-old Pete will go to his grave still singing his heart out for peace and justice, here’s an article from the Rutland (Vt.) Herald:

BRATTLEBORO — Folk legend Pete Seeger will perform with his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and blues musician Guy Davis at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 at the Latchis Theater in a fundraising concert to provide microloans to farmers.

The event is co-produced by Strolling of the Heifers and the microloan program will be a cooperative project between them and the Carrot Project, a not-for-profit organization based in Somerville, Mass., dedicated to providing financial assistance to small and midsize farms and those using ecologically friendly practices.

The Strolling of the Heifers — best known for the parade of the same name that takes place in Brattleboro the first Saturday in June — promotes awareness of agriculture and raises money for youth agricultural programs.

“The idea came from asking farmers what we could do to help them,” said Orly Munzing, Strolling’s executive director, of the microloan program. “The young farmers, especially, can’t get loans, and that’s difficult in an emergency.”

Munzing said the Carrot Project will handle the financial end of the program and will match farmers with lenders.

For decades, microloans have been far more common in Third World countries than the United States. In 2006, Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering the practice in his native Bangladesh.

“It’s easier for farmers in India to borrow money than in the United States,” Munzing said. “These small farmers in the Northeast need the most help.”

At 89 years old, Seeger has spent the last seven decades as a folk singer and political activist. He performed with Woody Guthrie in the 1940s, testified before the House un-American Activities Committee in 1955 and participated in civil rights marches in the 1960s.

Along the way, he composed, “If I had a Hammer,” “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” and “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?”

Today, Seeger devotes most of his time to his environmental activism group Clearwater.

Rodriguez-Seeger first performed with his grandfather in 1986 and has released five albums with his band the Mammals. Guy Davis has released 12 albums since 1978 and his 2004 CD “Legacy” was chosen as one of the best of the year by National Public Radio.

Tickets range from $30 to $50 and for an extra $15 concertgoers can attend a post-show reception with the artists. Tickets are available at the Latchis Hotel and Vermont Artisan Designs in Brattleboro, Dynamite Records in Northampton, Mass., or at

Years ago, I met Pete when I interviewed him for a magazine article looking back at the violence that erupted when the legendary Paul Robeson gave an outdoor concert in 1949 in Peekskill, New York.

In the late 1990s, Pete kindly agreed to perform a benefit concert for a small, local charity I had started in western New Jersey to help local families with food and heating oil and to buy Christmas gifts for children in those families. One of Pete’s favorite slogans is “Think globally, act locally,” and this effort — unpaid volunteers helping their neghbors — fit the idea perfectly.

His first concert (which also featured Pete’s talented grandson Tao) sold out a 650-seat high school auditorium (with every cent raised going to the charity, as Pete declined any kind of compensation). And Pete had such a good time, and thought it was such a good cause, that he came back two years later and headlined another benefit concert, this one held outdoors at a park along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. (Both of those concerts also featured performances by local singers who donated their time and talent and got on stage with Pete — including my good friend and great novelist Christian Bauman, who dueted with Pete on a Woody Guthrie song called “Do-Re-Mi”).

Anyway, that’s when I really got to know Pete and his amazing wife, Toshi, and that’s my real excuse for writing this — to help publicize his latest benefit show for his latest cause but also to declare that just being able to say I know Pete Seeger is an honor and that getting to meet him and talk with him and work him will always rank as one of the highlights of my life. The man is an American hero, a true American hero, and how could I keep from singing his praises?