Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pete Seeger: a tribute…

We shall overcome
We shall overcome
We shall overcome, some day
Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe
We shall overcome…
– Pete Seeger (3 May 1919 to 27 January 2014)


Pete Seeger’s music played the role of a mostly subconscious soundtrack to a large part of my life – from childish singalongs, to a burgeoning, teenage awareness that music could be political as well as emotional… – and it remained thus, in the background, until Bruce Springsteen released We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, in 2006. (Similarly, I had not taken much notice of ‘The Boss’, until I was given tickets for a gig at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium, in 1988: which was one of the most memorable – and wonderfully, thrillingly long – concerts I’ve ever been to; and which resulted in a sudden, large influx of vinyl onto my groaning shelves!)

That album awakened an active interest in Seeger – the man, his words and music; his story, and steadfast beliefs – and, at one stage, too many repeat playings of The Byrds’ version of Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season) (notable for being an almost verbatim listing of lines from the Book of Ecclesiastes – with the addition, in the closing line, of “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late”: preceding John Lennon, I suppose, by quite a few years…).

Seeger, along with quite a few other singers, also adapted an old gospel song to produce We Shall Overcome – and I think it would make quite a good (protest) anthem for the Tysoe Residents (Neighbourhood Planning) Group: particularly with its line “The truth shall make us free”, and its applicability to that pivotal word, ‘sustainability’. As Keith Risk proclaimed at the planning hearing, three weeks ago: “Gladman may quote the word ‘sustainable’ in their application, meaninglessly; we give that word meaning.”

Seeger once said that he wanted “to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other”. Although I understand (and concur with) the sentiment, Tysoe, I believe, is proof that this already happens; and no looking backward is needed. That doesn’t make us unique, of course; but, in my experience, it does make us rather rare (but, hopefully, not endangered: as around 90% – and rising… – of the UK’s population lives in cities).

In the States, I accept, things may be different (although I like to imagine that all small North American towns are just slightly different riffs on Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon: “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average” – not unlike our village, therefore…). Politicians would obviously like us all to believe that the almost sociopathic arrogance, selfishness and solipsism that they demonstrate, are attractive qualities, which are both prevalent and aspirational; but it is readily apparent that, in a small – and, dare I say, tight-knit? – community, such as ours, it is empathy and sympathy that bind most of us together.

Seeger also said: “Be wary of great leaders. Hope that there are many, many small leaders.” And we have many such generous “small leaders” in the village, working on our behalf – sometimes ceaselessly; sometimes silently; but often unpraised. It is easy to take them for granted (or even ignore them) – that is, until a crisis, such as the Gladman application, comes along: when we then expect those leaders to pull out all the stops, sacrifice their home lives, their work – their privacy, even – to charge in and rescue us (as did Keith Risk). We should, instead, be continually asking what we can do to support them – whether this is by similar hard work; or just acknowledging their presence even when all is well; all is quiet; and our environment is peaceful and undisturbed.

Until Gladman came along, the monthly Parish Council meetings had been ill-attended; and, already, the number observing their proceedings is rapidly and sadly waning (from the hundreds that attended October’s special planning meeting). PC chairman Mark Sewell – and his brothers David and Percy – contribute so much to the village, though: asking, it seems to me, nothing more than Tysoe’s continued wellbeing and prosperity in return. They are at the heart of this village; and their blood runs riverlike through it; and yet all three are intensely modest as to the parts they play. “Being generous of spirit is a wonderful way to live,” commented Seeger; and we should repay their generosity in kind, whenever we are able….

Thank you, Pete Seeger, for such inspiration. Your words, music, and spirit, live on; but you will be sadly missed. We shall overcome.

I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes, I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something, I’m listening to God.

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