The “Old School” tag has pretty much jumped the shark these days, but it fits my purpose here well: These posts are about the unique joy of sharing something you enjoyed as a kid with your own children.
And how better to start than with Pete Seeger, who’s working on at least his third generation of that particular joy? Both my wife and I listened to his music as children—in my case predictably enough, as a child of left-wingers who attended Woodstock, but less so for Whitney, whose parents just had a taste for folk music, especially Seeger’s work with the Weavers. (One of the many remarkable things about Seeger is how he has managed to both be fiercely political in his music and yet also somehow transcend politics with it.)
I remember loving in particular Seeger’s “story” songs, like “The Foolish Frog,” though I can’t precisely recall which record it is I was listening to. (I was thinking it could be Stories & Songs for Little Children, but it turns out that’s a compilation album that dates back only to 1994, by which time I’d definitely gone electric.) Later on, when I was no longer listening to my Seeger record, I would still marvel from time to time at a discovery: He wrote the Byrds’ hit “Turn, Turn, Turn”? His co-arrangement popularized the Cuban standard “Guantanamera” worldwide?
Seeger’s work for kids has been so widespread through the years that you can’t help but run into it all the time when you have some of your own. I was delighted to stumble upon an animated version of “The Foolish Frog” on YouTube—and even more delighted when I saw how much Dash enjoyed it; it remains a favorite of his.
Then Dash started learning some of Seeger’s other classics in preschool music classes. And then Bruce Springsteen’s The Seeger Sessions became one of his (and our) favorite CDs to listen to on long drives in the car. And then we all watched in wonder as 89-year-old Pete sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” on TV, at President Obama’s inauguration festivities.
Last year, we were able to take both sons to see the great man live at the Clearwater Festival. It wasn’t just their first live Seeger concert; it was ours, too. Pete’s voice isn’t as strong as it once was, of course, but he’s still a force on any stage. He sang “Guantanamera,” then “Turn, Turn, Turn,” encouraging the audience to sing along with him, as always. Dash complied, and so did we. As we sang, I looked around us, and saw dozens of other sets of grateful grandparents, parents, and children, all sharing the song with one another, and with Pete Seeger.
[Photo: Donna Lou Morgan, U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons.]