How can I keep from singing?

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David Tinker - More About This Later

By David Tinker

Pete's gone. I guess to a lot of people it's an interesting milestone. They know he was famous. But for children of the 1940s, now losing one friend after another, Pete Seeger was one of those whom we loved and who we thought would always be there for us. So we grieve. I am not going to bother writing an obituary in this column, all that is public stuff that you can look up on the Internet. My feelings are personal, and Pete was connected to the deepest foundations of my own life. He knew, of course, what he had done, and he accepted the responsibility that came from influencing so many people, from being such a public personality. Like many others of my generation I felt I could have been one of Pete's friends, for that was who he was and what he did. He made friends and his friends were better persons for knowing him.

Looking back now, we realize that the year 1963 was a pivot around which the modern world has turned. Everything important happened that year. It was the year of Civil Rights struggles in the US, the year of Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, the year Medgar Evers was murdered in Mississippi, the year in which The Beatles released their first album and burst onto the scene of an astonished America, the year of Vatican II, the year of The Great Train Robbery, the year the US entered the Vietnam War, the year Nelson Mandela was put on trial in South Africa, the year Stan "The Man" Musial retired from baseball, the year Alcatraz was closed, the year President Kennedy was killed. And for the Moreabouts, the year in which our eldest child was born.

But there was another 1963 event that I remember more. It was the Children's Concert by Pete Seeger in the Town Hall, New York City. We listened to the songs on the radio and were entranced, and you can be too, for free, on grooveshark.com. As in all his concerts the audience sang along, but the sweet purity of children's voices made this one immortal. The familiar folk song "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" with the children carrying the lovely melody and Pete's descant soaring to the skies is "out of the zone" as Eric Clapton put it. But the tears flow now when I hear "It Could Be a Wonderful World" and Pete's remarks. "Sometimes people do change their minds through hearing music," he said. Yes they do.

Pete Seeger took up many causes. Almost all of them were anathema to the rich and powerful, and to the right wing politicians of his country. Many tried to shut him up. But guess what, history always proved he was right. We will remember this gentle revolutionary long after the demagogues and bigots who hated him have been utterly forgotten. So in Pete's memory I'll close with a song he sang that could be his epitaph.

 

"My life flows on in endless song,

Above Earth's lamentation,

I hear the real though far off hymn,

That hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife,

I hear that music ringing,

It sounds and echoes in my soul,

How can I keep from singing?"

 

 

(David Tinker is a retired scientist and professor living in Annapolis County. He writes a weekly column for The Spectator.)

 

Organizations: The Beatles

Geographic location: US, Mississippi, Vietnam South Africa New York City

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