I own only two instruments, one is a banjo and the other a concertina. The reason I own them is because when I was very young, in the mid-1950s, I was sent to a summer camp for the children of comrades in the movement. And because of the blacklist, there were limited opportunities for people with a communist history, so two musicians came up to this southern Ontario campsite to entertain the children, one of whom I no longer remember the name, but the other was Pete Seeger. Not many definitive moments in a child’s life that are remembered more than half a century later, but that concert was one. And so, very badly, I play the banjo, and it was from Pete Seeger’s instructional manual I learned.
I had one other Pete Seeger moment. I was staying with my aunt in Fishkill, NY, sometime during the 1960s, and she mentioned that Pete Seeger was in their local phone book, living in a place called Dutch’s Junction. So I phoned over to invite him to tea and goodness gracious, he answered the phone himself and it was Pete Seeger who has the most distinctive voice in all of folk music on the other end. He thanked me for the offer but didn’t come round but an indelible memory.
Growing up, every single one of my parents’ friends was in the movement. All were Stalinists, my parents included, which is hard to reconcile about people I loved as much as I did. And they taught me a lot, gave me my interest in politics but, as I see it, fortunately taught me enough to break with every political tradition they held dear.
Life is complex. Pete Seeger has died at 94 and I mourn his passing into the great beyond.