The Washington Post
29 Jan 2014 - 24 Jul 2015
Style Blog
Pete Seeger, Neil Diamond and me
By Justin Bank January 28Follow @bankonjustin
As some obituaries written for Pete Seeger today note, he lived on a mountainside near the Hudson River. On the other side of that mountain was where I spent my teenage summers, at Surprise Lake Camp. And Seeger could not have been a greater neighbor to the 500 campers and staff who swarmed up to SLC to fill our side of the valley for two months every year.
He would come over and play a concert or two each summer. As a 13-year-old, I was introduced to his songbook, which became a shared reference point that was drawn upon for countless campfires, overnights and sing-alongs. I was fortunate to enjoy those melodies for six summers. During my final, pre-college summer at the camp, I was able to pay forward as a counselor, explaining to new campers the gift we were all sharing.
Befitting the shared spirit and energy of the man and the camp, we often had to work for those songs. Concerts were coordinated with Shomrei Adamah — a sort of Jewish Earth Day. Packs of kids were dispatched to the local Hudson River to restore watersheds. We would hike local mountain trails to clear litter and debris.
1 of 24
Full Screen
Skip Ad
A look at the long career of the legendary singer.
Pete Seeger in the late 1950s or early 1960s, with his banjo. A champion of folk music, he always urged audiences to sing along. Courtesy of Folkways Archives
Buy Photo
View Photo Gallery —A look at the long career of the legendary singer.
Then in the evenings we’d pile into the Eddie Cantor Theater (named after its generous Vaudevillian benefactor, and a famous camp alumnus) to sing songs with Pete and hear stories about his life. A personal favorite moment was when he would jokingly claim ownership of the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land Is Your Land,” and go on to work through the logical contradictions of owning a song about shared spaces.
Mine is hardly a singular story. I’m part of a network of tens of thousands of New York area kids who grew up with his music. My own group in the late-’90s would sing “If I Had a Hammer” at morning roundups and spend evenings dancing (awkwardly) to Biggie and Boyz II Men. And a generation or two earlier, Neil Diamond was apparently one of those kids at morning roundup being influenced by Seeger. Camp Director Jordan Dale said Diamond considers the camp one of the formative experiences of his career. “He often refers to Surprise Lake Camp in his speeches. He was inspired by Pete Seeger,” Dale said.
That connective strand continues to this day. On Facebook, my feed is overrun with old friends sharing their remembrances. And those annual concerts Seeger performed, even into his 90s, are recorded and shared on YouTube. There was always a stool for Pete to rest on, but in the videos you see Pete standing with his banjo. Still singing a song about danger, about warning, about a love between his brothers and his sisters all over this land.
Pete Seeger, legendary folk singer, dies at 94
Hear some of Pete Seeger’s best songs
Most Read Lifestyle
1How helicopter parents are ruining college students
2Carolyn Hax: Pregnant wife hurt by selfish mate obsessed with unborn baby's gender
3Perez Hilton posts apology to Jennifer Lawrence, vows to never publish nude celebrity photos again
Lunchbox: It looks good and sounds good, but it sure could taste better
5Are Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie traitors to the gay community?
The Most Popular All Over
© 1996-2014 The Washington Post
Help and Contact Us
Terms of Service
Privacy Policy
Submissions and Discussion Policy
RSS Terms of Service
Ad Choices
Musicians, activists remember folk icon Pete Seeger
Caitlin Dewey | January 28
PostTVPoliticsOpinionsLocalSportsNationalWorldBusinessTechLifestyleEntertainmentClassifiedsJobsReal EstateEventsRentalsCarsWP BrandConnectSubscribewashingtonpost.comHelp and Contact UsTerms of ServicePrivacy PolicySubmissions and Discussion PolicyRSS Terms of ServiceAd Choices