Neil Gaiman says:

Neil Gaiman says:
pic by Allan Amato

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Never tired of folk heroes

A couple of weeks ago, Bruce Ward hammered Pete Seeger for no reason in his opinion column at the Ottawa Citizen. Taking justifiable umbrage at this attack on the 90-year-old folk hero, I clattered away on the keyboard and shot a letter to the paper.
To my surprise, they decided to print my note and sent over photographer, Bruno Schlumberger to snap a shot of me, posing with my banjo.

It took two weeks because in the middle of that time, I was asked to do a rewrite of my letter, to shorten it by about 100 words or so. I did my best and patiently hovered around the Citizen's online letters area to see if it would appear at some point. I was stunned to see this morning that they had kept pretty much the whole original piece, which was quite gratifying.

So, you can either bop on over to the Citizen, or read the letter here. If you didn't get a chance to see what spurned this on, you can read the original opinion piece here.

Cheers and keep on plinkin'!


Re: Getting tired of folk heroes, May 26.

Back in 1985, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie played the NAC. I was 15 and it was one of the first concerts I'd ever attended.

I went with my mom and was very excited, even though all I knew about Arlo Guthrie was Alice's Restaurant. It isn't simply rose-coloured glasses that make the show one of the best I can remember. There was a full house; a crowd of all ages and genders, who, at the first "plink" of Seeger's beloved banjo, and "plunk" of Guthrie's piano, were held in rapt attention.

Ottawa crowds are usually polite, quiet and attentive, and give standing "O's" at the end for a job well done.

But Seeger wasn't having any of it.

The magic of the evening was not sitting on my bum, silently enjoying a skilled performance. The magic was Pete Seeger saying: "You sing the low part, and you over there sing the middle part, and don't listen to me because I'll be singing somethin' different."

He taught the crowd the harmony to The Lion Sleeps Tonight and encouraged us with grins, humour and tenacity until we were limping through our separate parts not too badly. Then, we launched into the song. It was uplifting, spiritually moving and unforgettable. Half the audience sang the song's lower range: "Hey up boys! A Wheem-a-whet..." while the other half took the song's higher part: "A-wheem-a-whet a-wheem-a-whet..." Way, way above all of us,
Pete sang the descant in a crazy vibrato: "In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight..."

It was perfect! Every hair stood on end as he brought the rhythmic song closer to its finish. By then, we were all standing, and it wasn't even the end of the show: a spontaneous "standing O" right in the middle of the performance!

I am sorry that columnist Bruce Ward's experience with Pete Seeger didn't have the impact and uplifting force it did for me, and for millions of others around the world whose lives his and Arlo Guthrie's music has touched. Seeger's power is that he connects directly to people in the audience and makes them feel special, that he cares about their lives. You feel it when you see him, and you know it when you sing with him.

Seeger prevails, and I, for one, am glad.

All this talk of folk music has inspired me to take up the banjo I bought last summer; a spontaneous purchase which came shortly after finding Seeger's banjo primer in a folk music store in P.E.I. The first song I'm going to learn is Abby Yo-Yo.

Suzanne Marsden,
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Pete Seeger
Abby Yo-yo

1 comment:

Andrew Moizer said...

Hey, I was searching trying to figure out when that '85 Ottawa Pete & Arlo concert was and found your post. We managed to get front row seats, the perfect place to enjoy the experience.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to the Citizen. I'm with you 100%. If Mr. Ward has another opportunity to see Pete, I'm sure he'll find plenty of people willing to attend in his place.

Pete & Arlo are an inspiration and set an example of trying to make the world a better place every day.