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January 28, 2014 4:09 PM RIP Pete Seeger

By Michael O'Hare

When someone like this dies at 94, working for what he thought was right to the very end, I don’t think there’s anything to be sad about. Seeger’s political judgment wasn’t always the best, though he was wrong ‘for the right reasons’ (ignorance and misplaced hope, not bloody-mindedness or cruelty), and in the days he got Stalin wrong, a lot of good people did the same. A fine musician, and a big heart.

When lefties were finding him jobs during the blacklist, he was my fourth and fifth-grade music teacher. I still remember all the Spanish Civil War songs, union songs, and political songs he taught us, and there were a lot. I will always think of him leading a big group of people singing together about something important, which he did as long as he could hold the banjo inscribed “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.

No tears, just gratitude. Pete would have loved this song: “When I die, I don’t want crying and candles…I want a yellow ribbon…and a pretty girl dancing on my coffin…just music from a flute, guitar and cavaquinho.” He would surely remind us of Joe Hill’s valedictory: “Don’t mourn for me, organize!”

Goodbye, Pete, and thanks.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

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