THE BLOG
01/28/2014 05:37 pm ET | Updated Mar 30, 2014

FACE IT: Pete Seeger on My Mind

Today, everyone will be writing their obits and playing "Turn Turn Turn," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "If I Had a Hammer" in memory of the great and now late Pete Seeger. I can add nothing to the conversation in terms of the man's gentle soul, which amazingly, never seemed to turn bitter. Who knew seething could be so soothing?

It won't stop me from trying, however.

About a year ago, I watched a Harry Belafonte documentary and I flashed upon a time when my parents took me to see him at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Some 50 years later, I suddenly remembered one part of that concert in particular. All grew quiet and all but one musician left the stage. With only a lone guitarist at his side, Belafonte sang a song so haunting and beautiful that I wanted to cry. I was very young, but it felt important, especially when my parents told me it was about a trio of white boys who had gone down South to help Black people.

I actually got curious about the song after watching the documentary, and thanks to some clever sleuthing and YouTube, I found it. Not only is it as gorgeous and powerful as I'd remembered, I discovered it was written by Pete Seeger. Wouldn't you know it? He somehow found a way to relay the profoundly poignant emotions left behind after Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Earl Chaney were slain while trying to register voters.

Seeger himself was a bit ahead of Boomers like myself -- who associate our era of protest with Dylan and Baez and all who followed. But certain goosebump-inducing experiences still resonate. Like Belafonte putting aside the lighthearted Calypso beat and sitting down on a stool that balmy, seemingly safe summer night. Like watching a nasal-voiced artist named Phil Ochs perform on my campus at Santa Barbara in 1968. Who was this young man, achingly performing songs I'd never heard, like "There But for Fortune" and "I Ain't Marching Anymore"? Ochs killed himself at a ridiculously young age a few years later... obviously he couldn't take singing about it anymore. But he too has come alive for many lately, as Neil Young paid tribute at Carnegie Hall a few weeks ago by including one of Ochs' songs, "Changes," in his concerts.

All these memories coincide -- if not clash -- with this week's Grammy awards. I confess to not being excited by Daft Punk or Imagine Dragons, but God bless them for speaking to a certain generation. Do I wish I appreciated them more? Sure. Would I like to look and, in fact be, 30 years younger? Of course. Would I trade anything for the music we grew up on? No way.

All I can ask today is you listen to this song and remember those three and the man who took pen in hand, as he so often did, and made sure we'd never forget.

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