July 2010, Week 5


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Fri, 30 Jul 2010 22:46:49 -0400
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Pete Seeger Spellbinds With Intimate New York Set

91-year-old folk legend opens up about supporting
Obama, new disc

By  Patrick Doyle
Jun 22, 2010 6:19 PM EDT

At 91, Pete Seeger doesn't like to travel anymore,
preferring performing in front of school children in
his hometown of Beacon, New York, to big journeys into
the city. But last night, the folk legend played a
short but spellbinding set for 400 fans at New York's
Gotham House, an old converted bank, and received
WhyHunger's Chapin award in recognition of his work on
hunger and poverty issues.

After a dinner in the sprawling banquet hall, Tom
Chapin outlined Seeger's 70-year career and still-
active life upstate, joking, "He poisons the minds of
children with his subversive attitudes about poverty
and human rights." Seeger didn't give much of an
acceptance speech, choosing instead to strap on his
rustic banjo for a politically charged set that began
with his 1970 track "We'll All Be A-Doubling." He still
picks masterfully, and his voice sounds gloriously
ragged. When Rolling Stone told him the performance
recalled his legendary 1963 Carnegie Hall recording,
Seeger laughed, "I can't remember that far back - it
was 50 years ago!"

During the opening number, Seeger told the crowd he
recently asked a local politician to help slow down his
hometown's growing population. The reply? " 'Pete if
you don't grow, you die,' " Seeger recalled. "I didn't
know what to say. Then at one o'clock in the morning I
woke up. I said, 'It's true, if you don't grow, you
die, but doesn't it follow that the quicker you grow
the sooner you die?' "

Seeger switched to a 12-string guitar and began a hymn-
like finger-picked version of "Somewhere Over the
Rainbow." He told the story behind the classic Wizard
of Oz track, recounting how lyricist Yip Harburg and
composer Harold Arlen held a successful two-man protest
to get the studio to include the song in the film.
Seeger looked up at the ceiling and apologized to the
deceased Harburg for having to change the lyric "Why
can't I" to "Why can't you and I?" and explained his
logic: "If I'd been there when little Dorothy said,
'Why can't I?' I'd tell her, 'Dorothy, it's because you
only asked for yourself. You've got to ask for
everybody, because either we're all going to make it
over that rainbow or nobody is going to make it.' "

After his set, Seeger locked away his banjo in its case
and told RS he still likes to perform, even though "my
voice is gone. I just shout or whisper." He still looks
back fondly on the frigid inaugural concert for Barack
Obama, where he led a joyous version of "This Land Is
Your Land" alongside Bruce Springsteen. Saying he
remains supportive of the president, Seeger mused on
the nature of American electoral politics. "If you do
what in the long run is the best thing, you may not get
elected," he said. "But you could get elected four
years from now because people like George W. Bush get
in and do so bad, that the whole country will realize
what shortsighted people they are. I always say God
only knows what the future's going to bring. But he
gave us brains. And fundamentalists do as bad things
here as they do in the Muslim countries. Some miracles
are going to happen."

Turning to talk about his upcoming disc Tomorrow's
Children (due July 27th), which features 19 songs
recorded with local schoolchildren, Seeger's mood
lightened. "I find a 10-year old likes to sing alto
because they can shout it," he said, adding that the
project is a major highlight in a half-century-plus
career: "It's the most inspiring thing I've ever done."


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