Monday, August 27, 2012

At Bryant Park: Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger has a bone to pick with the editors of Everybody Says Freedom. He wants to know what buffoon at W.W. Norton & Company authorized the "godawful" cover photos. Pete looks like he's at a funeral while the freedom marchers appear to be in search of one. According to Pete, the book is meant to be a celebration of struggle, an uplifting and inspiring collection of stories and songs from the frontlines of the civil rights movement. Judging from the cover, it should be full of songs about death and cholera.

I know this because that's what he told me when I met him at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan on the occasion of his new book's release, In His Own Words. Written in collaboration with Rob and Sam Rosenthal, the book focuses on Pete's writings and letters throughout the years to those closest to him like his mother and father, Woody Guthrie and Pete's wife and partner for more than sixty years, Toshi, about whom he has written: "Thanks to my wife Toshi, without whom the world would not turn nor the sun shine."

I bought a copy for my mum and told Pete that she had been the president of her clerical union at the BC Teacher's Federation in Vancouver in the 80s and early 90s. She found inspiration in his music with the Almanac Singers and the Weavers, as well as his solo work and she would have loved to have met him. He signed the book, "To Marie!" with an exclamation mark.

I then placed Everybody Says Freedom in front of Pete, which I'd also just picked up. He paused and gave it a look over, shook his head and then drew a bright red 'X' through his photo with a felt pen.

It was vintage Pete Seeger: spontaneous, honest and indignant. We shared a laugh and he then signed it for both Yuko and I.

I told Pete I'd follow up and try and track down those responsible for that "godawful" cover. So if you're out there and happen to read this, redo the cover!

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