As life goes on various famous people pass on and we usually take just a little bit of time to think of their accomplishments, but when a giant of an era like Pete Seeger leaves us, it leaves a giant hole, one that sadly can't be filled by anyone.
I first met Pete Seeger in 1986 at an outdoor concert in Vancouver's Stanley Park. Vancouver was hosting a world's fair called Expo '86 and the fair had hired Pete and Arlo Guthrie to play. What Pete and Arlo did not know was that a lot of activists had organized to boycott Expo '86 because many down less than fortunate people on Vancouver's eastside had been kicked out of their long term rooming houses to make way for the expected tourist accommodation dough from Expo '86.
My band D.O.A. had helped organize 7" benefit single called Expo Hurts Everyone. So the late great Jim Green (prominent Vancouver activist) organized a benefit show at Stanley Park's Malkin Bowl to raise money for those people that had been displaced by Expo '86, Pete and Arlo quickly agreed to headline the show. But they needed a warm up act, so Jim asked if D.O.A. would play, we were honoured, but we had to play acoustically as there were fears that our sonic blast would frighten the animals in the nearby zoo and the city park board objected to D.O.A., as they claimed that our fans would trample the fauna in the park, in retrospect, they were probably right on both counts.
So that's where I met Pete and Arlo and what a memorable show it was, about 10,000 attended and $20,000 was raised and distributed to those in need by Jim Green's Downtown Eastside Resident Association. That day was the perfect amalgamation of folk, punk and people's spirit: think Pete singing We Shall Overcome. I started out playing folk music and switched to punk when I was 20. But I've always believed that the two movements had a similar philosophy: justice for all.
Now I have been playing in D.O.A. for 35 years and people often ask how I've been able to keep at this musical activism for this long. I just tell them to take a look at Pete Seeger, he never stopped helping people and playing rallies for great causes for 70 years. He revived folk music, he wrote great songs, he survived and thrived after being black listed. But the main thing he did was inspire. Inspiration for generation after generation of those of us who seek a equitable world.
I tell myself, if I could do a quarter of what Pete did in his lifetime, I don't think I could be more satisfied. My older sister Karen used to bring home Pete's records when I was a young kid and we would learn to sing those songs together. I never realized then how much they meant. In recent years I have attended my children's Remembrance Day school ceremonies where they played Where Have all The Flowers Gone, I had a hard time holding back the tears.
I was fortunate enough to meet Pete again at the Folk Convention in Toronto in 1998, we enthusiastically reminisced about that show at Stanley Park. At that moment I really realized he was perhaps my greatest hero. Maybe it was just the way he took the time to listen to everyone who wanted to talk to him with incredible patience, humour and that joyous sparkle he seemed to have in his eyes.
Pete Seeger may be gone but his spirit lives on with many of us. We will miss him terribly.
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