It reads like a cliché but seldom has it been so accurate: they don't make ‘em like Peter Seeger any more. The folksinger and activist died in a New York hospital yesterday January 27.
Here's what we can learn from his amazing life:
Musicians don't have to die young: Seeger started playing when he was 16 and toured tirelessly first with his seminal band the Weavers and then as a solo artist for close to eight decades. He was 94 when he died.
Your prof may not always be right: Seeger attended Harvard in 1936 as a sociology major but dropped out after two years. He says a professor told him you can't change the world you can only study it. Seeger's music inspired generations of artists - including Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen - and folk music, a genre he helped rescue, was at the heart of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements.
Change is possible: He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and referred to by President Clinton as an inconvenient but essential musician when he was honoured at the Kennedy Centre. That was a big shift for the artist. The one-time card-carrying Communist renounced the party in 1950 but was still hauled in front of the House on Un-American Activities and was dropped from the Smothers Brothers show because of his past Communist connections.
Adversity can be sweet: Seeger always said the 50s were the high point of his life.
You can be a folksinger and a great songwriter at the same time: Seeger is famous for resurrecting old songs - he changed the lyric to We Shall Overcome from We Will Overcome with The Weavers - but also co-wrote Turn! Turn! Turn!, Where Have All The Flowers Gone? and If I Had A Hammer, among others. And don't assume every tune had political overtones. It was Seeger who, while with the Weavers, helped transform Kisses Sweeter Than Wine into a knockout love song.
You can stay relevant in your old age: Seeger took up every major political cause throughout his life. In the 40s he battled Hitler - in spirit and while in the army. In the 50s he battled anti-Communism, in the 60s racism, in the 70s the Vietnam war, in the 80s, 90s and beyond nuclear power, pollution and the death penalty. And, yes, that was Seeger marching alongside activists in the Occupy movement.
Rest in peace.