“Please don’t make me out to be some kind of saint,” laughs 93 year-old music legend Pete Seeger, regarding comments made by others campaigning for his Nobel Peace Prize nomination.
“There are people around the world who are truly heroic and far more deserving than me. It’s just that because I get more publicity, I tend to get nominated periodically, but I told the young woman who is behind this, that it’s really not necessary.”
Seeger will be lending his time and support tomorrow evening to co-headline an impressive bill at Manhattan’s Beacon Theater, for a man named Leonard Peltier.
Hosting the event will be the equally legendary Harry Belafonte. Others appearing will include singers Jackson Browne and Bruce Cockburn, actor-rapper Common, ex-boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, wrongly jailed for 22 years, and immortalized in song by Bob Dylan, plus documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, director Peter Coyote, and actor Danny Glover.
It’s purpose is show solidarity for Peltier, who has been imprisoned for the past 36 years for allegedly killing two FBI agents at a 1975 Native American rally in South Dakota.
However, many groups like Amnesty Internation, now consider Peltier, a six-time Nobel Peace prize nominee, a “political prisoner,” who should have been released many years ago.
The growing list of like-mined individuals includes 55 United States congressmen, former South Africa president Nelson Mendela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Dalia Lama, the late Mother Teresa, and a Court of Appeals judge who once voted against a retrail.
Of course, Pete Seeger’s involvement is not surprising as political activism has become as synonymous with him as his music; something he’s paid a price for. In the 1950’s at the height of McCarthy era paranoia, his popular singing group, The Weavers, were blacklisted, due to his Communist affiliation.
Music, politics and environmental issues are still very dear to Seeger’s heart. Since 1966 he’s been active in the Clearwater Project, an annual event he started to keep his beloved Hudson River as clean as possible.
Seeger, the co-author of such classics as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?,” “If I Had A Hammer,” and “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and inspiration to Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Billy Bragg and countless musicians, also has two fine new albums that were just released.
One, Almost There, a collaborative effort with old friend Lorre Wyatt, also features and such esteemed guest starts as Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, and Dar Williams. Showing that there is no generation gap when it comes to reverence, Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello also makes a guest appearance.
In showing his own reverence, the other new album, Songs To Woody, is a loving tribute to Seeger’s own friend and mentor, Woody Guthrie.
From his Beacon, New York home that he shares with long-time spouse Toshi, Seeger spoke eloquently for nearly an hour in a somewhat frail but steady voice, on a variety of subjects that stir his passion, primarily his involvement in the “Free Leonard Peltier” movement.
NY Examiner: What is your primary goal for tomorrow’s benefit concert?
Seeger: Right now, the worst thing about his situation is that he’s been transferred from a prison near his base in South Dakota, to one in Florida. Now, it’s become too expensive for his family to visit him, which is really cruel. Also, we’re hoping to raise a significant amount of money to hire more lawyers. All of the evidence in this case points to his innocence, but he’s exhausted all of his appeals. The only chance he has for a release is some clemency. Obama could let him out of jail. We’re hoping that the publicity from this concert will result in his freedom.
NYE: When did you first become interested in Native American culture?
PS: Oh, that started way back at age seven. I became fascinated with the books of Ernest Thomas Seton, who was born in Scotland, but raised in Canada. He held up Native Americans as role models, and wrote exciting stories about them. I read every single one of his books; not just once, but several times. When I was ten years old I pretended I was an Indian, and built myself a teepee from this muslin cloth I got. It was out on this cow pasture that was part of a huge farm that my grandparents owned. I actually learned to cook my own meals on this tiny little pan inside the tee pee. It’s a wonder I didn’t burn the whole place down!
NYE: You and Bruce Springsteen sang at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Did you ever think you’d see an African-American president in your lifetime?
PS: No. Never. I think little by little some of the most wonderful things have happened in my lifetime in this country. I’m a little more optimistic than I used to be. I used to agree with (writer) Kurt Vonnegut, who said that the human race has a snowball’s chance in hell of being around a hundred years from now. However, the agricultural revolution took thousands of years, the Industrial Revolution took hundreds, and the information revolution only took decades. So, who knows what’s going to happen in the next few decades, especially with the women’s revolution.
NYE: What do you think Woody Guthrie would make of American society in 2012?
PS: Well, Woody was an incouragable soul. I think he would agree with me that the hope for our continued existence lies in millions of little things. On the other hand, I don’t know if I could persuade him that unless the world’s population stops doubling around every 32 years, we won’t be able to sustain ourselves. I also think that he would be amazed that his songs have spread out to not just millions, but billions of people around the world.
NYE: How do you stay so physically fit at 93?
PS: I like to chop wood. I’ve done it all of my life, and I love living out in the country.
NYE: Your modesty is well known, but even so, what would you like your legacy to be; mostly for music, or your social activism?
PS: I’d like to be remembered as the sewer of seeds. That’s the greatest parable in the bible as far as I’m concerned. Some seeds fall in the pathway, get stomped on and don’t grow. Some fall on the stones and don’t even sprout; but others fall on the ground and multiply a thousand fold.
So, like most teachers, I’m just another sewer of seeds.