"We've got a country full of ambitious people," Pete Seeger tells us. Solar energy is "something direct," a way to "pay our bills, not tomorrow, but today."
By "bills" Pete doesn't just mean the ones from the electric company. He's talking about the Big Bill, the one from Mother Nature.
At age 91, Pete is American folk activism's truest bard. It's no accident that Pete's new CD is Tomorrow's Children and that his new music video is for Solartopia! a holistic, socially just, post-corporate vision of a green-powered Earth.
Solartopia, he says, "is the wonderful, positive way of approaching the problem" of a polluted planet. "Don't just say 'don't, don't, don't.' Say 'DO! DO! DO!'"
This spring, while finishing up Tomorrow's Children, he joined singer-songwriters Dar Williams and David Bernz in a Beacon studio filled with singing schookids, organized by local music educator Dan Einbender, who co-produced the album.
Pete's hometown, up the Hudson from Manhattan, is home to the Clearwater, the legendary sloop Pete has helped keep afloat to fight the pollution that's killing the great river -- and our planet. That includes fierce opposition to the Indian Point nuclear plant, a few miles down the river, now in a life-or-death legal battle over the hot water outtakes that kill millions of aquatic organisms every year.
Along with Solartopia!, Pete, David and the kids put some finishing touches on Turn! Turn! Turn!, one of Pete's great anthems. With its Biblical overtones, it still resonates with the aura of a generational hymn. The Byrds took it electric in the 1960s, but it lives on as a clarion call for a species on the brink.
Pete wrote Solartopia! in his solarized hand-built home, surrounded by woods, overlooking the river. Below the house, his battery-powered pickup quietly recharged from the panels on the rooftop.
With great optimism, I asked if he could possibly put this vision of a green-powered Earth to music. Without so much as a blink, he whipped out that magnificent banjo. In a matter of minutes -- forever golden in my soul -- he had the song.
Then singer-songwriter David Bernz, who co-produced Pete's previous Grammy-winning CD, wrote the verses. With award-winning filmmaker Dan Keller shooting in High-Def, and a dozen of Einbender's kids in joyous chorus, the video was born.
Pete's presence in the movement for a green-powered Earth has been as essential as it was in the days of Civil Rights (when he wrote We Shall Overcome ) and Vietnam.
In June, 1978, Pete came to Seabrook with Arlo Guthrie and Jackson Browne. To avoid potential mayhem involving thousands of peaceful marchers versus a wacky out-of-control New Hampshire governor named Meldrim Thomson, a deal was cut. Attorney-General Tom Rath agreed to stand by quietly while the Clamshell Alliance would enjoy a peaceful weekend on the construction site---as long as we left on Sunday afternoon.
But who would show up? When Pete said he'd come with Arlo and Jackson, we had an event for the ages. It was America's biggest anti-nuclear gathering until the melt-down at Three Mile Island nine months later.
That was thirty years ago --- already a good four decades into Pete's career of activism and social change. Since then he's sung at countless concerts, benefits, marches and gatherings aimed at shutting the nuclear industry and other polluters while bringing on a green-powered Earth.
For his 90th birthday party, last year, he packed Madison Square Garden with activists and fans, including Bruce Springsteen and a stage full of luminaries. The proceeds, of course, would go to support the Clearwater.
To have Pete now singing for a green-powered Earth, putting our movement once again to music, is enough to give us all hope in yet another "hopeless" movement against yet another "unbeatable" problem ... until we dance again in Solartopia.
"Wind power, solar power," Pete says. "this is the most exciting time in the world to be living ... There has never been such an exciting time."
Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/solartopia