The news of legendary American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger’s death this week sparked some personal memories.
Memory can be tricky because it is our version of the truth, but I believe the first Pete Seeger song I heard was If I had a Hammer.
If not, Little Boxes would have been it.
In those pre-google days of the 1960s, I would sit intently with a pen and paper trying to jot down the lyrics to songs.
I thought I was pretty clever with a system where I’d write half a line and go to the beginning of the next.
Then I’d play the song again and again until I completed each line.
Lyrics always intrigued me and Little Boxes was no exception.
There were no suburbs in Nelson then and the university people my mom and dad knew did not live in boxes all the same.
“Where was this place he was talking about?” I wondered.
At one point I recall thinking Pete’s voice reminded me of a banjo. It had that full folky quality.
In Grade 5 several of us girls got guitars for Christmas and the plunking began.
We practiced at lunch hours and eventually got a reputation for our willingness to perform, not necessarily our talent.
When asked to perform at a Canada Post retirement banquet in early November we decided it would be appropriate to sing Where Have All the Flowers Gone.
Remembrance Day was just around the corner, one of us announced before we started singing.
We loved that song — it had so many verses. And if you really wanted to, you could start it all over again. I think we liked to repeat the first verse, to emphasize the point.
My funniest Pete Seeger memory is from 1984 when my sister Clare and I were volunteering at the Winnipeg Folk Festival at Birds Hill Provincial Park in a food booth.
Pete was the main stage performer for the Sunday afternoon and everyone was excited.
As Pete’s concert began, our shift ended.
Clare and I bolted across the field toward the venue, edging as close as we could in the crowd of 10,000 people.
Suddenly Clare turned to me looking confused.
“Who is this old guy?” she frowned.
“Pete Seeger,” I replied.
“Working on the night moves?” she asked.
“That’s Bob Seger,” I whispered.
“This is Pete Seeger — little boxes on the hillside,” I sang.
I admit I hadn’t thought very often about Pete until last year when I stumbled on a clever video of Walk off the Earth’s rendition of Little Boxes on Youtube.
It was entertaing both visually and musically.
I hope it made Pete smile.