Pete Seeger: How Can I Keep From Singing


The BBC radio announcer’s voice insinuated itself into midst of dream, then the voice of Pete Seeger, singing, drew me into the darkness of waking at 3 in the morning. Pete Seeger is dead.  The shreds of dream whisk away. I get up, brush my teeth, make coffee.

Damn. The man lived long, and well, but damn. He was one of the good ones. To borrow a cup of metaphor from Jewish tradition, I would go so far as to place Pete Seeger among the Lamed Vov. Lamed Vov means Thirty-six. According to Talmudic tradition, there are 36 just souls in every generation. The rabbis tell us that if but one Lamed Vovnik were lacking, the human race would be destroyed by its own evil. My friend Clarissa says a Lamed Vovnik “…can be any soul who goes forth amongst the wounded, tending to the underdog in particular, to the despised, to those the overculture sees as untouchable, worthless, expendable. The Lamed Vovnik don’t know themselves, do not know they are Lamed Vovnik. They ask for nothing, go on to the next, are…the pillars of the world…the world would fall apart if the Lamed Vovnik were not on earth.” Tears come. Water for the dead, but I weep for myself, the foolish easy tears of late middle age, old man’s tears.

That voice. The song I hear in Seeger’s voice is his version of an old Quaker hymn:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them go winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

The Wikipedia entry on Seeger is extensive. The New York Times obit has a great slide show.

this machine forces surrender



3 responses to “Pete Seeger: How Can I Keep From Singing

  1. I have this album, also. It originally belonged to Brother Dave.

  2. Yes, I remember listening to it at the Duffy St. apartment. Seeger’s voice conjures our friendship and that time in our lives. That’s part of why the news affects me, an old fool’s tears for foolish youth that was.

  3. If I had a hammer…

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