Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hey Pete Seeger: You're NINETY!

Musical talent is in the genes. Already-present proclivities, interests, and strengths are reinforced by prolonged immersion in a family culture of music.
So, the Seegers were a musical family, and Pete had no choice but to become "Pete Seeger." With a fate like that, who could blame him for learning to love the Hudson River aboard a nifty schooner SLOOP like Clearwater.
I imagine that part of the difficulty in being "Pete Seeger" is that whenever you have a gig at a waterfront festival or maritime folk music shindig, you bump into the folks who sail the ships that the kids at the events invariably refer to as "pirate boats."
Folks like me.
I sailed with a schooner jockey who claimed to be an old family friend of Pete's and I had no reason to disbelieve his claims because the kid played banjo and guitar very much like Pete. And his girlfriend worked on Clearwater. A curator that I worked with on The Beach had perfected a spot-on impersonation of Seeger, and explained that it was all authentic Pete-speak that he had picked up -- when he had worked on Clearwater.
A ship that I had sailed exploited a number of older volunteers as crew. Ashore once during a waterfront festival, I called out to a septuagenarian in the crowd -- thinking that I was cajoling a shipmate -- and it turned out, instead, to be Seeger. A few puzzled looks and mumbled apologies later, now a few remarks about schooners and "Tiverton RI," and we were as good as old mates, me pointing down the wharf to my mainmast and him inviting me over to the stage where he should have been a half-hour earlier. After a while, I became accustomed to seeing Pete at these things all Summer, up and down the coast.
The last time that I saw Pete was ten years ago: I was working for the New Bedford Whaling Museum, covering the back door shift during SummerFest, New Bedford's Summer Folk and Maritime music extravaganza. A crowd of folkies was following Pete down the Belgian block street behind the museum. Pete looked distracted in his blue workshirt and carrying his banjo over his shoulder.
He was bounding along and stopped abruptly before me, almost causing a pileup of tie-dye and Birkenstocks. He blinked at me out of the crowd and pointed his long index finger at me (just like this picture, the cover of his latest album)And put out that damn cigarette before I kick your ass!and he shouted out, in that voice like a distant horn blowing through reeds:
"YOU! You'd know where I'm supposed to be!"
If I didn't know exactly where he was supposed to be, I would at least know how to get him there, and he said something about "playing on some boat" and I asked if that was Ernestina.
He snapped his fingers, shockingly loud. The route down to the Ernestina's berth is straightforward to a native, but seems circuitous if spoken, due to the walls, one-ways, and highway that separate the rest of New Bedford from the waterfront, so I offered to walk along. He waved me off, muttering something that sounded like "all of these seaside towns are pretty much the same to navigate, thanks."
And he was off, at a remarkably quick loping gallop.
Maybe I'll see him at the Hudson River Revival Clearwater Festival in June.


Karie said...

Really nice post.
Funny how some people can feel like "home" when you just meet them in a moment. And then again for just a moment years later. Great that you have a small place in THAT man's brain.

Happy Birthday, Pete!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, but you must know that clearwater is a north river SLOOP. Mr seeger did sing aboard the new bedford boat that day, and a few others....

Ernestina is the schooner, and it looks like a different version of her will return to NB this month. The S-t published a photo today that was not shared with the schooner bums last week, and gives away the fact that her topsides dont match the bottom.


ThirdMate said...

Anonymous shipmate, you surely must know, after all these years of following this Impossible Journal, that all those gigs with triangle/trapezoidy sails look the same to me, since I am, at heart, the antique slowboat squaresail TallShip™ guy. (Although, I do have a thing for the sloop Providence. You never forget your first.)

So, rather than spar, I have fixed the gaffe -- or is that "gaff"?
(Get it? "Gaff"? "Spar"? See what I did there?)


Anonymous said...

The Ernestina is a Grand Banks fishing schooner, if we're getting technical.

Anonymous said...

I admire the HMS impossible, and the fact that she sails before the wind
way cool!
Pete seeger knows ernestina is not a grand banks.whatever.

The original boat may have been around gloucester when mr kipling wrote stories...but Ernestina is a cape verdean schooner

ThirdMate said...

I'm this close to making a terribly distatsteful quip about Effie M Morrissey being a "Cape Verdean schooner" in the same way that H1N1 is a "Mexican" flu.

But it's Cinco de Mayo. ¡Gracias!