Yarns with Pete Seeger
legend Pete Seeger entertained a packed house at MHC on
You can talk about
telling storiesor you can just go ahead and tell some. The
art of the latter has marked Pete Seeger's long career, and he
pleased a full crowd at Chapin Auditorium Saturday afternoon with
a typical set of shaggy-dog stories, banjo songs, and musings
on the state of the world.
Seeger and his collaborator,
poet Paul DuBois Jacobs, recently released Pete Seeger's Storytelling
Book, a distillation of the many tales Seeger has learned,
adapted, or simply made up throughout his sixty-year performing
career. He told the crowd that the main point of storytelling
was to encourage participation in something of value. "If
there's a world one hundred years from now, I think that people
will be back to doing thingscoming together, communicating,
telling stories," he said. "My goal in doing this is
to encourage that and get people away from the worst drug there
isthe Plug-In Drug.'" True to his word, he had
sing-alongs of a few of the songs (it's possible that nobody has
ever gotten out of a Pete Seeger show without having to sing at
least once first).
was very much in the style he has developed over his long career,
which began with the Almanac Singers, the group he started with
Woody Guthrie in 1940. A story verse would suddenly become the
chorus to a song, accompanied by his five-string tenor banjo,
then veer into a personal reminiscence, then back in to the story.
He continues to write stories and songs; a brand-new one, still
in progress, pays tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King. "I don't
have much for verses yet," he admitted. "But the chorus
is a good one."
He told the crowd
that the raw material for storytelling is available to anyone,
anywhere. After telling the Bible tale of David and Goliathcomplete
with a discursion into his attempts to teach himself how to use
a slingshot as a teenagerhe noted, "In the Bible, that's
maybe one hundred words at most . . . You can spin any story outlong
or short." Seeger cited the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz
and Guildenstern Are Dead as another example of taking a small
piece of an existing story and getting entirely new material from
At age eighty-three,
Seeger is still hale and energetic, but is happy to share a stage.
He called on Jacobs to help out with a couple of story-and-song
duets during the second half of the appearance. Also stepping
to the mike was Seeger's grandson, Kitama Jackson-Seeger, a student
at Hampshire College who has apparently inherited a wry storytelling
gene from his grandfather.
Pete Seeger's Storytelling
Book is available at the Odyssey Bookshop, which cosponsored
the event with the MHC's Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.