Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Mentor, Pete Seeger

 Pete Seeger called me for the first time in 2008, to offer advice as I was planning the first global Solstice Sing for Peace event.  Over the next several years, we communicated by phone and mail.  He mentored me in my efforts for peace, and later agreed to be featured in a book I hoped to get published about everyday peacemakers.  His openness, encouragement and kindness struck me immediately and continuously.  I will be forever grateful for his generosity of spirit and how it inspired me.  Following is a recollection of our only face-to-face meeting, which occurred in September 2008 in Brattleboro, VT.

Some people are compelled to perform.  Pete Seeger is one of them.  Whether he’s on stage, with a small group of people or talking on the phone, this legendary folk singer/songwriter will break out in song.  Yet, in many ways, he’s like any other grandpa. He built his house with his own hands, taps his trees for maple syrup and loves homemade strawberry shortcake.  He’s personable, has a million stories to tell and still carries a bit of boyish charm.  
I have heard that the singer can be ill tempered, but I have spoken with Pete a few times and interviewed him in person once, and each time he has been more warm and charming than the last.   Like many other performers I know, Pete infuses each conversation with his art, in this case, the art of song.
            When we met in Brattleboro, Vermont, the then 90-year-old was preparing for a concert with his grandson, Tao Rodriguez Seeger. Pete had agreed to take an hour or so from his busy day to speak with me.  Yet his grandson seemed hesitant about our meeting.  The two had traveled to Brattleboro with their publicist, who would accompany Pete to the hotel room for our interview.  She was both his protector and his aide.  She explained that she and Tao were tense, because they and Pete had experienced an “unpleasant fan incident” on their way into the hotel.  Pete seemed unfazed.
I had brought my daughter and a cameraman along, and about halfway through the conversation, Pete taught us a new song.  We sang together for a few minutes.  Later, when we had finished our chat and my cameraman was putting his equipment away, Pete stood, strapped his guitar to his back and stared out the window at the nearby mountains.  “I’m going to climb those someday,” he declared quietly. 
I don’t remember if I responded.  I was struck by the beauty of the moment, and by the image, so simple and so profound.  Pete seemed at once a fully empowered man used to setting goals and achieving them, and a little boy dreaming of adventure. 
To read the rest of the chapter about Pete Seeger from the unpublished book, "Everyday Peacemakers," or to request Pete's recipe for Strawberry Shortcake, contact me