An appreciation of Pete Seeger

Musicians Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen perform in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration At The Lincoln Memorial," January 18, 2009 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Vigorous nearly to the end, Pete Seeger won admirers from each new generation.  An appreciation now from Bill Flanagan of VH1:

Pete Seeger led a long and remarkable life. He was a generous man who put his beliefs ahead of his own comfort, his own career, and sometimes his own safety. All the accolades coming his way this week are deserved.

Passage: Maximilian Schell and Pete Seeger

But I have to confess that as a teenager, I thought Pete Seeger was kind of square. It was a "Gimme Shelter" world, and he was a "Kumbaya" guy.

I knew that Seeger had been outraged when Bob Dylan went electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival -- one of the greatest moments in the history of rock 'n' roll.

I did not understand then what Pete understood immediately: that when rock and roll took the youth audience away from the old folkies, it was also creating a hierarchy where the performers were going to be up there, as stars, and the people were going to be down below, as spectators.

Pete wanted everyone to be equal.

My conversion to Pete Seeger came late, and it came through my son. He had traced him back from Tom Petty to the Byrds to "Turn Turn Turn."  He said, "Dad! Do you know this guy?  He's fantastic!  He's playing the Newport Folk Festival, we gotta go!"

Pete was 90 at the time.

So in 2009 my teenage son and I drove up to the Newport Folk Festival to see Peter Seeger.

Also on the bill: Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. To my son, it was all new, and it was all wonderful. 

And I realized he was right; those folk songs transcended time, they dealt with universal human issues, and when those artists could not play them any more, they would pass them on.

And the strongest link in the chain, the man who kept the messages alive longer than anyone else, was Pete Seeger. He carried that music a long, long way. Now the music will carry him.