This was a great man. I don’t care how you feel about banjos, or the left, or unions, or songwriting. You can disagree with his politics or say his art is not to your taste. But you cannot deny that Pete Seeger was a great man. I’d be remiss if I allowed this day end without marking his passing.
Look at what Woody Guthrie painted on his guitar.
Now look at what Pete Seeger inscribed on his banjo.
Think about the differences in those statements for a minute. The difference between killing your enemies and forcing them to surrender is important, but it is not the only important difference. Woody’s target is fascists. Pete’s target is hate. When I look at these two images, I see one poet speaking to a particular time and place, and another speaking to the ages.
The world is a better place because Pete Seeger lived in it.
Here he is at Farm Aid last September, singing a Woody Guthrie song and including lyrics that are have mostly been written out in the popular version because their political content makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
(Credits: I’ve never been able to track down source for the Woody photo, but it’s all over the internet and I am pretty sure it’s in the public domain. I suspect the banjo image is also in the public domain. I picked it up from New York Personal Injury Attorney‘s Pete Seeger obituary, which I encourage you to read.)