Born on a Thursday #45 – Brother Can You Spare a Song?

So long Peter Seeger! Thank you for your voice and your heart! I never had much, but I did have music, and music is what kept me going when the world was a cold cold place. I remember literally freezing and starving on the Lower East Side, but the spirit of music kept me going. You believed music could save the world – and it saved mine. I am grateful for your life, Mr. Seeger, bodhisattva, and all those you’ve inspired.

I don’t know whether to smile or cry.

So long Pete Seeger! Thank you for your voice and your heart! I never had much, but I did have music, and music is what kept me going when the world was a cold cold place. I remember freezing and starving on the Lower East Side, but the spirit of music kept me going.

You believed music could save the world – and it saved mine.

I am grateful for your life, Mr. Seeger, bodhisattva, and all those you’ve inspired.

I don’t know whether to smile or cry.

Peter Seeger's Banjo

and – The Weavers!

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and – Peter, Paul, and Mary

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and – Bob Dylan

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and – Woodie Guthrie

Woody-Guthrie-canvas-print

Woody Guthrie canvas print by Obey

* Forgive me for not posting photography sources – I could not find them. Please message me if you know any of the photographers who created these images.
    1. Thank you for that story!! I love it!

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  1. Thank you, beautiful Redbird Berrysong, for this lovely post. Pete and his wife Toshi were both so wonderful, and so important to making our planetary culture as rich as it is. Just can’t be properly appreciated enough. Hard to think of nicer, kindlier, friendlier, more humble and fun, giving and selfless, dedicated people. I love(d) my parents, and—whatever their issues—they were obviously just right for me, but can you imagine having Toshi and Pete (whatever their issues) for parents (or grandparents)?–Wow!
    Our families had shared mutual friends and colleagues since before my birth, but it was Odetta who first re-introduced me in my mature youth to Toshi and Pete. There is so much one can say about them, it’s just sort of overwhelming. Toshi departed this past July, and I think we all sort of suspected that Pete—who was already dealing with some serious age-related physical issues—might not last all that long after that. As so often happens. Though just ten days before his passing he was apparently out chopping firewood, and as he recently told Amy Goodman in an interview on Democracy Now, he wished he had another 20 years to see the wonderful progress he was convinced is bound to come. The memorial show is worth watching in full (be sure to include the link to it here: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/28/we_shall_overcome_remembering_folk_icon

    A couple of highlights:

    Pete: …The establishment has always been concerned about music. I’ve quoted Plato for years, who wrote, “It’s very important that the wrong kind of music not be allowed in the Republic.” And I’ve also heard there’s an old Arab proverb, “When the king puts the poet on his payroll, he cuts off the tongue of the poet.”
    During the 1930s, I was very conscious that radio stations played nice love songs and funny songs, but only by accident did a song like “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” get through. The other songs tended to be more like Bing Crosby’s hit of 1933, I think: “Wrap your troubles in dreams. Dream your troubles away.” That’s how we’re going to lick the Depression?
    …Some of Bob Dylan’s songs are still my favorites. What an artist he is. What a great—I would say maybe he and Woody [Guthrie] and Buffy Sainte-Marie and Joni Mitchell and Malvina Reynolds are the greatest songwriters of the 20th century, even though Irving Berlin made the most money. They wrote songs that were trying to help us understand where we are, what we’ve got to do….”

    According to his wikipedia entry,
    When asked about his religious or spiritual views, Seeger replied: “I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. I used to say I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.”. He was a member of a Unitarian Universalist Church in New York.

    I think your praising Pete as [his own kind of] bodhisattva is quite apt: consider the bodhisattvic insight expressed by the Japanese poet and Zen Buddhist master Dogen (1200-1253):

    The color of the mountains is Buddha’s body;
    the sound of running water is his great speech.
    Here Dogen is “sampling” the earlier Chinese Chan (Zen) poet and diplomat Su Tung Po (1037-1101):
    …The sounds of rippling creeks are the long, wide tongues of Buddhas;
    The mountains are the pure bodies of Buddhas.

    None of which, of course, is to suggest that Pete-as-bodhisattva was, in any conventional sense, a “Buddhist”—as contrasted to something/anything “else”!—but rather only that his life reflects the characteristic values of a being well on the way to becoming a buddha (fully universal or enlightened one). As Japanese American Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi ( 1904-1971) once said:
    If you’re not a Buddhist you think there are Buddhists and non-Buddhists,
    but if you’re a Buddhist you realize everybody’s a Buddhist—even the bugs.
    Shunryu Suzuki Roshi (1904-1971)

    that is to say, we are all on our way to realizing our own unversal nature. Some bugs (and other beings), like Pete, just naturally radiate this more effusively, effectively, infectiously, ebulliently. Bodhisattvas.

    The follow-up couplet to the Su Tung Po lines quoted above reads:
    Late at night, when contemplating the 84,000 verses,
    How is one to explain what one has realized?

    Pete’s songbook may or may not extend to 84,000 verses (a conventional symbolic counting of the recorded discourses of the historical Buddha), but close enough! How are we to express our appreciation? “A long branch is a long expression of buddha-nature; a short branch is a short expression of buddha-nature.” I think this pre-echoes Pete’s view voiced above. The spirit of Pete’s life and verses extend “across the universe”–mutually interpenetrate with the universe, with universal buddha-nature, God, our own true Self-nature, and with the music of our hearts and minds and souls, a music so richly further informed (and formed) by Pete. Such a lovely chap! Such an immeasurably significant influence on us and our culture, our planetary family.
    On a personal note, Pete departed a year to the very day after my late wife’s departure. She was a great fan as well—often singing snatches of his songs at perfectly apt moments. Yes, it’s hard to know whether to smile or cry–to mostly grieve our loss or mostly celebrate the gifts we’ve received—some of both, a fullness of both—“…a time to be born, a time to die; a time to laugh, a time to cry…”

    AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Pete Seeger, for being with us. And for someone who isn’t so hopeful who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?
    PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That’s what Seeds is all about. And there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousandfold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.

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    1. Oh wow. Thank you so much for your words. My heart feels very expanded, full and light right now!

      I’m looking forward to watching the Democracy Now link, too. Pete’s approach to life and music is very positive and empowering. I had (may still have) one of his songbooks, and I loved that he says a song is something anybody can make their own – and yet the only way to make it your own is to share it.

      Oh, goose bumps!

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    2. Watching Democracy Now! – weeping. Such a beautiful human being . . .

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