By Brian Ives
In a statement released on Tuesday (Jan. 28), Mellencamp wrote, “Pete Seeger always tried to make the world a better place through his music and activism. His lifelong commitment to the cause of peace and to addressing the plight of the downtrodden has been an inspiration to all those who have championed society’s victims and have done what they could to combat injustice. His music and commitment was more powerful than a thousand armies. We are fortunate that he lit the way for so long. Pete once gave me a bit of advice, and I’ve always tried to remember what he said: ‘Keep it small and you will make a difference.'”
In 2013, Mellencamp brought Seeger onstage with him during his set, along with fellow Farm Aid board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young and Dave Matthews, who backed up the 94-year old folk icon for an extended run through of “This Land Is Your Land.”
Mellencamp’s fellow Farm Aider Willie Nelson posted numerous messages on his Facebook page celebrating Seeger’s life, including a lyrics from Seeger’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn” and a quote from President Obama that celebrated Seeger’s ability “to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.”
Neil Young took to his Facebook page, posting simply, “Thank you Pete my friend, for all you have done for us. We sing in your voice about the things that matter, the story of the people and their struggle, with a laugh and a cry.”
As for Dave Matthews, he released a statement via Rolling Stone where he recalled seeing Seeger thirty years ago, his first concert, and then getting a chance to meet him four years ago.
“He made me want to be a better person,” Matthews wrote. “Why don’t we lend our ears to the greatest among us. Pete Seeger fought for the working people and he fought against greed, and corruption, and war, and pollution, until the end of his life. Even though he was frail he came and performed at FarmAid just a few months ago.”
Springsteen was a huge disciple, and in fact, in 2006, he released an album called We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, an album of songs popularized by Pete Seeger.
In 2009, Springsteen performed at New York’s Madison Square Garden in celebration of Seeger’s 90th birthday, and spoke about the man from the stage.
“At some point Pete Seeger decided he’d be a walking, singing reminder of all of America’s history. He’d be a living archive of America’s music and conscience, a testament of the power of song and culture to nudge history along, to push American events towards more humane and justified ends. He would have the audacity and the courage to sing in the voice of the people, and despite Pete’s somewhat benign, grandfatherly appearance, he is a creature of a stubborn, defiant, and nasty optimism. Inside him he carries a steely toughness that belies that grandfatherly facade and it won’t let him take a step back from the things he believes in. At 90, he remains a stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself.”
Read Springsteen’s entire speech at his official website.
At the opening night of his tour in Cape Town, South Africa yesterday (Jan. 28), Springsteen called Seeger a “courageous freedom fighter” and performed “We Shall Overcome” in his honor.
Tom Morello, who performed with Springsteen at Seeger’s 90th birthday concert and who is currently touring with the E Street Band, tweeted “RIP Pete Seeger. Absolutely the best that humans can aspire to be. A courageous, kind, fearless soul,” and then tweeted a link to, as he said, “Seeger’s uncompromising badass testimony before The House Un-American Activities Committee.”
Part of it includes his answer to the question of whether he sung to Communists: ” I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.”
You can read Seeger’s full testimony here.