Pete-Seeger-SongleadingAs I sit here working on different things on my computer the TV is on in the background, and PBS is re-broadcasting its American Masters segment on folk singer Pete Seeger (Pete Seeger: The Power of Song). The last time I saw it Seeger was alive, but he died in late January and this re-broadcast is now part history and part memorial. I can’t help but turn to the broadcast and immerse myself again in the music and the story of Pete’s life. It was a remarkable life spanning nine decades and touching on everything that has happened in our own history for nearly a century. You probably all know the story … artist, poet, singer, political activist … a genuine icon, and a hero. Late in the filmed segment his son (or maybe a grandson) remarks on how the song “Turn, turn, turn” reflects his long active life, where finally everyone has come to realize that his whole life was an act of love for everyone, and that song was the unifying force that allowed everyone to share that love. And yet … all that love and poetry was much more about taking a stand than romancing someone. And take a stand Pete did, over and over. He stood with unions against management, with protesters against war, and even as late as 2011 with Occupy Wall Street against banks. He never had commercial goals and was forever giving of his time and talent to help a cause. By the end of the show I had chills and tears. Where have all the flowers gone indeed?

I found myself thinking that somehow Seeger’s story is also about what I have come to believe about Shakespeare (i.e., Edward de Vere), that the Shakespeare Canon exists as an act of love coupled with the purpose of speaking truth —poetic truth— to power,  a kind of “power of poetry” not unlike protest songs. The idea that the Canon exists because one man was hell bent on making some money is wrong, simple as that.

There are tons of Seeger videos on YouTube, but here are two that are close to my heart: “Where have all the flowers gone?”, well, just because, and 2) “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” because here is our American Bard on center stage (after 17 years in banishment!) singing a war protest song —in  the midst of a war— that immediately got all political hell breaking loose, and undoubtedly hastened the end for the Smothers Brothers who had dared to put him on. Some things never change. I remember clearly watching it live in late February 1968. Two months later I was drafted, and 18 months later that was me in the big muddy, pushing on, none too happy about it, but in the end learning some important lessons about the reality of things.

Peace Pete.

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

“Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” (original broadcast on CBS, February 25, 1968)