Get Comfy…It’s The Pete Post

As we drive west with the morning sun off our port quarter, Betsy is sleeping in the back and Amelia is playing with her wooden toys, occasionally giggling or making some little sound to let us know she’s cool. We have a very long drive ahead of us, so I busted out the computer to edit and finish another post. But in a classic MTV Generation move, my short attention span got the best of me and a song spun on the CBC radio program we are listening to kicked my cursor down to a fresh page to start the long-simmering “Pete Post”.

In a string of excellent artists including personal favorites Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, came the brilliant folk-rock band, the Byrds. I have heard “Turn Turn Turn” countless times and have at least 3 different versions of it in my collection. And despite this exposure it still manages to tug at my soul every time I hear it. Those first three rich notes on the 12-string guitar followed by two solid percussion hits in the Byrds’ popular version seem to breathe happiness and hope into me like bellows into new fire. The waves of complex, yet soothing music carry the words – from the Book of Ecclesiastes – flowing from the radio with thoughtfulness and grace and power. It is a composition that exemplifies all the wonderful things about it’s creator, a man who I am privileged to call a friend and without whom I would not enjoy the life I’ve had.

Pete Seeger is thoughtful, on both a small scale to each individual he encounters, and on a large scale – when considering or discussing the larger issues facing society today. He is graceful, whether it’s picking on his famous banjo or chopping wood…even at 93. And he is indeed powerful and that power emanates from a prism of personal traits and life experiences with integrity at its core.

photo credit: Annie Lebowitz

I cannot begin to speak meaningfully on those experiences in this one little blog post; like his kick-starting of the American folk music revival, flying in World War II, his defiance of HUAC and subsequent blacklisting, his inductions into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Kennedy Center Honors, and his wonderful marriage to his wife Toshi, now approaching 70 years. Indeed, as I meander around the web to find links for this post, I find new tidbits – quotes, recordings, honors – that amaze and inspire me, like this video that happens to include a few verses of my favorite of Pete’s songs.  All this merely scratches the surface and certainly can’t quantify the unfathomable impact he has had on humanity.

His impact on my life however, is very real and very measurable. His vision of a sailing ship that would raise awareness of the polluted plight of the Hudson River in the mid-60’s came to fruition through hard work and faith and lots of music and has grown into a landmark organization for environmental education in the Hudson Valley and the world. I started on the Sloop Clearwater as an apprentice in the early-90’s, had the opportunity to work with an exemplary group of people and decided that a career in sailing – working outside, traveling, using a boat as a platform to teach students (of all ages) – was my calling. That was almost 20 years ago. I worked my way up the hawsepipe to become Captain and like to think I made a worthwhile contribution.

Clearwater Amy with Amelia, 5 months old

I met some of my closest friends, learned the true meaning of work ethic, teamwork and leadership and realized a life in which I found meaning and joy in my job. Never mind the fact that I would not have met my husband had I not chosen this unique life.  Clearwater is family to Amelia and I know that good times and friends await her there.

Clearwater Maija with Amelia, 5 months old

I have sailed and spent time with “Uncle Pete” periodically throughout these 20 years and like a potent spice, one needs just a taste of his spirit to fuel years of creativity and hope. His remarkable optimism is truly infectious. Add to that his vast knowledge of history, his respect for people of all backgrounds, his joy in engaging his audience in the music he creates, his courageous vision and his unwavering honesty and you have a recipe that has seen him through tough times and immense triumph. A recipe we can all strive to incorporate into our own lives.  Pete Seeger is a gift, and if I can pass on to my daughter an iota of the magic within him, I will consider myself a good mama.  I am eternally grateful for his profound impact on my life and the lives of my family and friends.

Amelia, 5 months old, with Pete & Toshi

From a Democracy Now! Interview:

AMY GOODMAN: And for someone who isn’t so hopeful, who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?

PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things… And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?

extras: I just love Dolly Parton’s version of the song and here’s my husband’s favorite Pete tune.


A Good Day (with Jimmy)…

No, in fact, a great day, we had a great day yesterday.  And we didn’t do anything. I mean we ate our meals and brushed our teeth and had our bath, but mostly we played.  We played in the pool and on the deck.  We played with the floats and the water wings and the bouncy balls.  We played in the kitchen with the doll and the tupperware and the sippy cup. We played in the raspberry bushes, on the grass and with the dandelions.  And it was amazing to recognize the epic gift of a day like that as it unfolds.

As a full-time mom of a toddler, weekends and vacations tend to blend in with everyday life like the color that runs from a dark shirt accidentally thrown into the white laundry.  Even the word ‘vacation’ stares back at me now disingenuously as I type.  Because even on vacation, the child must be fed, diapers must be changed and travel and new surroundings disrupt hard-won sleep patterns.  Nevermind the new hazards not found at home, like the sparkling blue pool, the thorny thistle underfoot in the yard and Grandma Bonnie’s good china not quite out of reach.  But yesterday, with absolutely no activities planned, we managed to wrap up the necessities with an experienced efficiency, so that hours of freedom lay before us like a buffet of popcorn and cotton candy before a hungry child.

It was a Jimmy Buffett day.  No, we didn’t blast “Margaritaville” and drink Pina Coladas, but philosophically it was a prime day for the King of Kicking Back.  You see, Jimmy has made his way into my music psyche in an oddly profound way.

The truth is that there was a time that I despised Jimmy Buffett and found his music to be frivolous.  Indeed, “Cheeseburger in Paradise” used to make my blood boil.  I was young, at university and convinced that music must be powerful, meaningful and have a message.  I was smitten with the raw and unique albums of Ani Difranco and Tori Amos.

And then my brother gave me a live album of Jimmy Buffett when we were living out on Martha’s Vineyard and I actually – gulp – enjoyed it.  The songs told stories, some sweet & sentimental, some nonsensical, and some just plain fun. Many spoke with an insight that surprised me.

I’ve since been to the infamous “Parrothead” concert only twice – an  experience in pure summertime glee – and think back to those joyful, crowded parties with a smile on my face. It turns out there is a message and that message is to be sure and enjoy life when the opportunity presents itself.

This was a musical “boot to the head” for me and taught me another important lesson… that one can appreciate music in all its forms, it just depends onto which record you choose to drop the needle at that particular moment.  I still love Ani Difranco and the fight in her music, but some days are just meant for rolling around in the grass with your golden-haired daughter mashing raspberries and laughing in the sun.


extras: a couple more links to some Jimmy tunes I really love; “One Particular Harbor” always gets this winter girl dreaming of the tropics, and a good friend touched on how my career echoed so much in Jimmy’s words with “Son of a Son of Sailor” (well, not the part about the jailor, of course).

Show Tunes to the Rescue…

I know of so many sleep-deprived parents who drive around with their babies to get them to fall asleep.  This is such a standard practice, that our pre-natal course instructor addressed the topic and advised against it for our own safety (friends don’t let friends DUINS – Drive Under the Influence of No Sleep).  In our case, this has worked only very intermittently and I discovered this the hard way.

Our first real road trip came when Amelia was about 8 weeks old.  We were headed to Uberdog, an old farm that had been converted into a fantastic dog boarding ranch, for an “interview” with the folks who would be housing our dog Betsy while we were in Boston two weeks hence.  In fairness, it was only 2 hours out of town, but it sure felt further that day…at least on the way home.

As promised, Amelia slept most of the way there.  The ranch was on a stunning hillside and the accommodations were luxurious by doggie standards.  Betsy made some friends and got a great run and Amelia and I sat next to the farmhouse, nursing and playing with the grass.

It was a bucolic scene and a peaceful afternoon… until the ride home.  It was then that I was compelled to dig deep into my own childhood road trip experience.  Yes, my parents were the ones who sang show tunes in the car and I’m damned proud of it.  Not only was it fun back then, it has stood me in very good stead as a new mom.

After a safety check and feed at the rest area, I determined that the incessant crying, while painful to my heart and eardrums, was not an indication of physical distress.  I filed it under, “Sometimes you may never  know why…”, and decided to press on.  The Sound of Music was the first up with “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss”.  The “raindrops on roses” began to ease the raindrops from Amelia’s eyes, though I will admit that Edelweiss, always sung to me by my father, brought them into mine.

The real workhorses of the evening though came to us from the great Judy Garland and the green Kermit the Frog.  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Rainbow Connection” bellowed from my untrained voice at least ten times each.  As each round started, first distraction then concentration allowed a respite to Amelia’s tears, but the quiet in between brought them back and only an encore performance would satisfy her.  And so, with another couple of safety stops and Julie Andrews, Judy Garland and Kermit riding shotgun, we slowly and loudly made our way home; Amelia and I alternately reaching for the top of our lungs and Betsy, curled up in the back, no doubt quietly perplexed about the ensuing racket.

These songs exhibit the true meaning of timelessness in that time cannot dull the joy they bring – even when sung in desperation.  Nor is the emotion they evoke merely a symptom of nostalgia, but real feeling each time they are sung – even when sung ten times in a row.  Of the many gifts given to me by my parents, this musical library is, indeed, gold and I am grateful for it everyday.

In an unfortunate twist of timing, I humbly add a quick tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, prolific composer for film and theater.  There was a time in my life that I knew every word of “A Chorus Line”, and “The Way We Were” is as achingly sweet now as it was when when I first heard it.  Even now, I discover music that I never knew bore his hand, like the themes from James Bond and the comedy/caper classic, “The Sting”. These were as much the “pop” songs of my youth as ABBA or Air Supply and I believe I am far richer in my musical education for it.  Rest in Peace, Mr. Hamlisch and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

extras: Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole’s sweet version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Willie’s sweet version of “The Rainbow Connection”

A new project

Everyone is asleep in the house now. The dog is sacked out at the foot of our bed and even the baby went down easily.  I can’t even hear my visiting parents talking politics downstairs.  The house is quiet except for the music slowly tumbling out of my computer.  It is a playlist I made for our bedtime routine; languorous bluegrass and folk, sweet and melancholy melodies anchored with strong, soothing harmonies.

That playlist started out with just one artist. “…And so I’ll sing that yellow birds’ song, the troubled times will soon be gone”…the closing words of Acony Bell by Gillian Welch with Dave Rawlings,  a vocal pairing that feels like a warm woolen blanket.  These words have been guiding Amelia into sleep for many months, sometimes gracefully and sometimes just hopefully. Of the many methods used to get the child to sleep – a monumental task at times – music is at the heart of the operation and Gillian Welch has been our go-to gal.  I have learned first hand how different each baby is and the unique traits and personalities they exhibit even from day one.   An appreciation for bluegrass and Ms. Welch in particular has apparently taken hold, much to the delight and relief of this new mother.  Lest you think I am neglecting my motherly duties of singing my child to sleep, rest assured that happens as well and will certainly be the subject of another post.  It’s just that when a parent catches a glimpse of the thing that will settle her ever curious and busy child, we grab on tight to that source of calm and don’t let go.

So now, almost every night after various bedtime activities (washing dirt off knees, “brushing” of teeth, etc.,) we sit in her darkened bedroom and listen to beautiful music.  Nancy Griffith, James Taylor, and Lyle Lovett, among others, have joined the playlist, and the good nights outnumber the battles.

“Sleep when the baby sleeps”.  That is the incessant advice from everyone, but in truth, I cherish this time alone.  This is the time I get to sit quietly and do whatever I want or do nothing at all.  Tonight was the night I finally decided to start this blog.    Many who know me know well my obsession with music.  It has permeated every part of my life, has brought me immeasurable joy and seen me through some of my most difficult times.  We all have so many hopes and expectations for our children and I am no different.  My wish for my daughter is a life filled with music.  All kinds of music; to play, to sing with, to dance to, to scream at, and to love. And as we mark 14 months of her life with us today, I know she is well on her way.