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Pete Seeger
"There is hope for the world".  Pete Seeger: The Power of Song.


Share the reflections of one of the great figures of American folksong.


(This interview was recorded at the home of Pete Seeger, near Beacon, NY, November 2008.  It includes portions that, for time consideration, were edited from the one-hour radio program and will be included in a later broadcast.)
FionaDoug Orr, Fiona, Pete Seeger:

So Doug (Orr) and I are working on a book we're calling "Wayfaring Strangers" and we want to make a journey through music, but we'll digress into lots of different other areas and lots of different places, where we trace the movement of songs and tunes from Scotland to the Appalachians, and on the way we'll travel through Ulster and see what influences are picked up along there.  So that's what we're working on just now.  And we're gathering all kinds of input into that and talking just generally about music, musical influences and the journey that music makes, and, in a sense, what is left behind and what is picked up as it moves through time. 

Doug found this quote from your father: "Don't think of folk music as any one particular group of songs or singers, think of it as an ancient, ancient process which has been going for thousands of years where people take older material and mould it to fit into their lives and new songs."

Pete:

And there'll always be arguments, oh sing it the old way.  Sing that new verse you made up!

The main thing I've tried to do is to demonstrate to people that it's fun to sing together.  It's true that a good solo singer is unforgettable, but it's also unforgettable if you can get a crowd of people who may never have met each other before and find that they have fun singing together.  And they surprise themselves in how good it sounds.  I've done this first with children seventy years ago, and then later on with college students sixty years ago, and now I cannot sing very well myself, but I try and find songs that people can sing if all I do is give them the accompaniment.  And sometimes the words.  In church they call this lining out the hymn.  I'll give a few words and they sing the verses and well as the chorus.

Fiona:

But music was just something that was around you all the time growing up, and when you talk about sharing music with children now, it's sometimes something that has to be introduced to children because they maybe don't have it in their family and they're maybe not surrounded by it.  But you would have heard music and song as early as you heard people conversing.

Pete:

Well, my parents were both classical musicians.  My mother was a very good violinist and for her the three Bs were Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.  I think I countered by saying, Mother for me it's Boats, Banjos and Biscuits!  Another time I said, Ballads, Blues and Breakdowns.

However, it was actually a Scotsman who went to Canada as a child and became a famous writer of books about nature, and he was my guru as a child. Ernest Thompson Seton, and I read every single one of his books and when I was 16 I announced to family – my mother was teaching violin to a Jewish family – they said, what are you going to do with your life, you're 16?  I said, well I'm going to be a hermit in this hypocritical world, that's the only way to be an honest person.  And they said, that's you're idea of morality?  You're going to be nice and pure in yourself and let the rest of the world go to hell?

And I thought it over and decided they were right and then got more involved, made lots of mistakes.  I do think that to try and be a hermit now, you can do it occasionally for a short period of time, but by and large if this world is still here in a hundred years it will be people who somehow find a community they like to work with and work with other people.

Fiona:

Apart from the three Bs who were your earlier musical influences that you can recall?

Pete:

I played in the school jazz band.  I wanted to be like my teenage peers, so I went clunk, clunk, clunk on a tenor banjo, playing the chords which were written down in the sheet music.  But I really didn't enjoy it that much.  It put me in touch with my peers for a while, but at age 17 my father took me to a festival in Ashville, North Carolina, and I heard ordinary working people making fantastically good music.  They didn't play many kinds of music, they just played the kind they knew.  And I'll never forget a woman in her 50s named Samantha Bumgarner, from a small town in Eastern Tennessee, and she'd come over the mountains to sing at this festival.  The man in charge of the festival was a lawyer, but he actually became a very good showman.  He would have only one mic on stage right and another mic on stage left, maybe 30 feet away- it was a broad stage.  And he'd have spotlights on stage right and there a band would be playing.  While they were playing, he would go over to stage left and get another band out and group them around the mic.  He'd say, "Now you know what you're going to play?  You know what key you're in?  You're all in tune?  Now the moment the spotlight hits you, you start playing.  But don't play until the spotlight hits you."  Now he walks back to stage right and the band there is finishing up and he leads the audience in the applause.  "Give a hand to the Concrete Boys, and aren't they wonderful?"  And then he would walk across the stage 30 feet and the spotlight would follow him.  "Now here’s the Smith Hollow Gang!  And they're going to take over!"  So he had a fast moving show, back and forth from stage right to stage left.

Fiona:

It sounds like a slick production.

Doug:

And this was Bascom Lamar Lunsford?

Pete:

Bascom Lamar Lunsford.  He gave me my first lesson in playing a 5 string banjo.  Instead of going and just playing chords, clunk, clunk, clunk, you'd pick up on maybe the middle string and then pick up on the first string, five notes higher.  And then come down with your thumb on the fifth string.  Gradually, I didn't learn this all at once, I learned you picked one of the strings with your left hand.  So now I could get four beats there.  Up on the middle string, plucked the first string with your left hand – my mother says that on the violin that's called Left Hand Pizzicato.  I just call it pulling off, but you know my phrase has been picked up by the whole music world now.  Guitar pickers all around the world, it's pulling off when you play a note with your left hand.  And sometimes you can, instead of pulling off, you can hammer down on one of the strings, usually a lower string.  You pick it with your right hand and then come down strongly on the fretboard with your left hand and the string is still vibrating in the new pitch.  And of course, a man named Earl Scruggs invented a way to divide up 8 short notes into 3, 3 and 2, that adds up to 8.  And if you analyze it, that's basically the rhumba rhythm. 

So, Africa had its share in modern banjo picking as well.  Of course the banjo was originally an African instrument.  Before that, it might have come from Asia, nobody knows.  It's mainly popular in West Africa.

Fiona:

When you started to play banjo were you aware of the origins, imported from Africa, or was there just a sense at the time that it was an American instrument?  People have researched it more since then.  How did you come to the banjo?  What was your thinking?

Pete:

Well my father was ... what he gave the name, musicologist.  He was interested in world music, way back 80 years ago, 90 years ago, and when recordings became available in the 20s and 30s he was teaching classes in world music and became the head of the Ethno-Musicalogical Society.  His life was in academia.  And so, through him, I've met others.  Herkovic died tragically young, he was only in his 50s I believe, but had researched West African culture deeply and that taught me a little bit.  And then in 1963, 1964 my wife and I were able to afford to take our whole family around the world.  Actually we sang for our supper in about 30 different countries of Asia, Africa and Europe, East and West, and in Africa we were able to film songs and different instruments.   That's where I learned that a drum in parts of West Africa can "talk".  Literally say anything.  I said, can you say anything you want on this drum?  He says, anything you can say in Yoruba is the local language and it's a tone language, so "ba-wo" will mean something quite different from "ba-wo" or "ba-wo" say maybe eight or ten different things with the same two syllables.  And when we visited this man, he was the Chief in a small town, we drove our car through the gate into the courtyard and a man at the entrance drummed a few beats of his drum and the Chief walked out immediately to say Hello.  I said, how did you know we were going to be here?  He says, oh the drum informed me that the foreign guests have arrived!  He said, you can say anything you can say in Yoruba. There's a man leaning against a wall 50 feet away.  Send a message to him.  I said, ask him to bring me the umbrella that it also leaning against the wall.  Bring it to me, not my wife.  So now the drummer played a few short beats and the man woke up as if the drum had said, "Hey get up, bring the umbrella over here and give it to the foreign guest, to the man".  Afterwards I said, how did you say "umbrella" in  Yoruba?  He said, well it's true, umbrella is an English word, but "umbrella" [said in singing voice] is Yoruba.

Fiona:

You must have collected a lot of scraps and pieces of songs and tunes when you were travelling round the world, and I suppose that would have been true maybe when you made that first trip down to Appalachia, down to Asheville, and met that great song collector, and great tune collectors Bascom Lamar Lusford, and Alan Lomax in fact.  At the time, were you thinking about trying to collect music or were you just moved by music and wanted to make music?  What about the collection side?

Pete:

I'm afraid I was not that well organized!  I just hit upon something that sounded nice and tried to imitate it.  Bascom Lamar Lunsford was a very conservative man.  He said, this folk music, it was all right until Seeger got connected with it.  He did not approve of me.  Even though he gave me my first lesson on the instrument.  The man who should be remembered was the son of old John Lomax who collected cowboy songs.  I think that the word folk music was invented about 150 years ago in Europe, meant the music of the peasant class, ancient and anonymous.  Well around the year 1900 a young man studying at the University of Texas on his vacations liked to sit around the camp fire with a pencil and paper, writing down the words that the cowboys were singing.  His professor said, oh this is just primitive, throw this away, you're wasting your time.  But a year later, up at Harvard, Professor Kittredge said, oh this is very interesting, this is American folk music.  So John Lomax picked up the term.  These were not ancient songs, they were not all anonymous, some of them were, but not all, and in 1907 he brought out a book, Cowboy Songs, and got President Theodore Roosevelt to write a short forward saying, these are good songs, people ought to sing 'em.  Whereas in Europe they would say, oh you're not authentic, this has only to be sung by a peasant!

But here in democratic America, John now encouraged people to sing these songs, and although he made a living working in a bank, whenever he could take a week or two off he would pile his family into a car and they would visit a singing family wherever they could find one.  The Ritchie family is a singing family in Kentucky, but he found other similar families in Texas, or wherever.  Sometimes, he reached out through the newspapers.  It's 300 miles from Albany to Buffalo, he wrote a letter to every small town newspaper along those 300 miles and said, is there anybody who knows somebody who knows some of the canal songs sung 30 years ago before they motorised the Erie Canal, the canal barges were pulled by mules, and a man had to walk behind the mules.  Well, he got numerous letters from people who said, oh my Uncle John, he worked at the canal when he was young, he can sing you some of these songs.  So he had a batch of very good canal songs in his next book, American Ballads and Folk Songs, 1934.    And that was when his younger son said, Father, I'd like to carry on your work.  And during the new deal, the Library of Congress got some money to pay somebody for the archives of Folk Song.  Before that it was just a junk heap.  Poor Robert Gordon didn't have time to catalogue them all, there were just piles of disks and papers mounting up in a small room in the very top floor of the library.  Well Alan took over this at aged 22.  His father called him "The Acting Curator."  His father was "The Curator" the man with the reputation, but his 22 year old son ...  And he, with the confidence of youth and energy, did in six years what most men would have taken a lifetime to do.  He'd call up the head of CBS Radio, a Mr. Paley and ask "you have the Symphony of the Year?  The Columbia Symphony, and you have a School of the Air.  I think you should devote one year to telling the American people about American Folk Music.  I'll write the programs and I can introduce the singers and after the singers have sung we'll have a composer like Aaron Copland write the same melody played for the sixty instruments of the Symphony Orchestra!"  And he couldn't find an old sailor who knew the song, he'd interview the author of the book, oh I've forgotten her name now, at aged 89 my memory has gone, but she wrote a lovely song ... Joanna Carver Colcord, "Songs of American Sailormen."  She was a teenager and her father was captain of the boat and she and her family sailed on a whaling ship.  And she also took out pencil and paper and years later came out with a nice book.  So he said, "Pete, learn this song!"  I think I was 19 or 20. 

Tis advertised in Boston,
New York and Buffalo
Five hundred brave Americans
A-whaling for to go.

Singin' blow you winds of the morning,
Blow you winds, hi-ho!
Clear away you're running gear
And blow, blow, blow!

And six or eight verses going on, the last verse ...

Now we're through us
Now we're through our sailing
A winding glass around we'll pass
And damn this blubber whaling. 

Pete:

Way back in the year 1939/40 he (Alan Lomax) paid me all of $15 a week to listen to hundreds, thousands of old records.  Back in the 20s they found that records would sell in the south if they were local southern songs, and often these were old ballads.  And if they weren't they still told about the life.  Uncle Dave Macon was in his seventies singing on the Grand Ole Opry of Nashville, but he had started back in the 1890s and that's when they had what amounted to a kind of a strike in the coalfields of Tennessee, because the Union was trying to organise the coalminers and the owners of the mines, JP Morgan up in New York owned the mine, got to the Governor of Tennessee and got the Governor to get state prisoners to work in the mines.  And so, if the white miners had gone on strike, the black prisoners were already trained to take over.  So Uncle Dave's song ...

Way back yonder in Tennessee
They leased the convicts out
Put them work and in the mine
Against free labor's stout.

Free labour rebelled against it
To win it took some time
But while the lease was in effect
They made 'em rise and shine.

Buddy, won't you roll down the line,
Roll down the line,

And it's a great song, I'm glad it's still being sung.  I fell in love with Uncle Dave and his work, never met him, saw the movie about him, they had a movie in the late 30s about the Grand Ole Opry.  I'm told they toured and Dave took from his home a real southern sugar cured ham, and when they got to a restaurant he'd give it to the waitress and say, cut off a slice of this ham and fry it along with my eggs.  People at the neighboring tables, "hmm that smells good,"  they'd say to the waitress, "can we have the same thing as that man ...  I'm sorry Sir, that's his ham!"

Fiona:

In about 1940, round about the time that you're talking about there, that was when you met up with Woody Guthrie and started working with Woody.  Was that your inspiration then for starting to write songs, because he was writing songs?  Did he encourage you to try your hand?

Pete:

In a subtle way, yes.   Woody Guthrie, like Robert Burns, was a genius who came from a small town, and he could have been very famous, if he'd wanted to, taking jobs in the city, but like Robert Burns, he turned them down.  He was very honorary.  He came to New York in the winter, February, of 1940 and Alan Lomax and I both came up from New York to hear him sing.  It was a benefit concert for California Agricultural Workers who didn't get paid very much money.  And so on stage, they called them Oakies.  Texies came from Texas, Arkies came from Arkansas, Kansies came from Kansas, Woody was a Oakie.  He stood there with his cowboy hat pushed on the back of his head telling short stories.  He said, you know, Oklahoma is a very rich state.  If you want some oil, just go down a hole in the ground, get you some oil.  We got lead mines in Oklahoma.  You want some lead, go down the hole, get you some lead.  If you want food, clothes or groceries, just go down the hole and stay there.  And he'd sing another song.

Fiona:

When you started to sing with Woody Guthrie and others who were beginning to gather in and around New York City in sort of late 50s by now, into the 50s and into the early 60s when people were starting to embrace the idea of folk music, what were they singing back then?  What was the musical currency among people back then?

Pete:

We wanted to reach working people.  We looked upon the people that owned the newspapers and the people that owned the radio stations as rich people who did not agree with us politically.  We were in favour of Unions, and of course, made a lot of mistakes. Over confident about this and over confident about that. We got a word called Hootenanny when we were travelling through Seattle, Washington.  They had a monthly fund raising party.  We found that the word had come from Indiana, which 200 years ago, 250 years ago had been French territory, and it was probably a French word originally.  As a matter of fact, up in Cornell University, some French students were told there was going to be a Hootenanny.  A Hootenanny here?  What's wrong?  Well, they said, back where we come from a Hootenanny is when you shoo the bride and groom out in the fields to spend the first night!

Fiona:

When you were singing in and around the city then, and we've seen wonderful footage on Jean Ritchie's life story, they did a great documentary, "High Hills and Mountains, the Jean Ritchie Story," and you were interviewed for that, and you were singing with Jean there in some wonderful footage. How did you take to the likes of songs that she was bringing into the city?  You know, they obviously sounded as if they were maybe very old, from another place, and were coming in and mixing and mingling with new songs written by Woody Guthrie or with people's own idea of protest songs.  Could you hear that strain of old balladry as well that was sort of coming into the mix there?

Pete:

A really good melody is going to live on often after the words are changed.  There's one great old melody ... (Pete whistles)     My whistling wasn't much good, but maybe you can ...

Fiona:

…recognize the tune ...

Pete:

A great composer would be proud if they had written that melody.  It's so good, it hasn't been changed much. Richard Farina made up some verses to it telling about the bombing of a church in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement.  I made up some words of it using a letter in my local newspaper in 1965, I think it was.  There were now, what they call "Advisers" in Vietnam.  They were really troops, and a local woman said, "Dear Editor, what is our country coming to?  My husband sent me a letter a month ago saying it's my own troops I have to watch out for.  I sleep with a pistol under my head.  And last week his body arrived back home.  Oh, and he said, the only people we've got who are friends are a few Generals, all they want is our guns."  Well I turned it into rhythm. 

It's my own troops I have to watch out for, he said.
I sleep with a pistol right under my head.
He wrote this last month
Last week he was dead
And Simon came home in a casket.

I sang this over in Europe.  Actually I had stayed away from songs about Vietnam when I sang in the Soviet Union, I sang mainly songs of the Union Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as old American love songs, any song I liked, dance tunes.  But a student in Moscow said, can you come and sing at Moscow University.  All the tickets are sold to your concert in Tchaikovsky Hall.  I said, sure.  And a man named Peter Groce said, I am the New York Times reporter, can I come with you, they won't let me on the campus.  Maybe you can get me in.  I said, sure.  I was all innocence, I said, you can carry my guitar.  Well, in his article he didn't mention any of the songs I sang except this one song, and the reason I sang it was that I was specifically asked a question, "Mr. Seeger, are songs being sung in America about the Vietnam War?"  And I said, "Yes there's a man named Bob Dylan making up songs called Masters of War, and a man named Phil Oakes who's making up similar songs, and Buffy St. Marie who is native American who's making up songs.  And they are all through the colleges".  Then I sang this song.  Well Peter Groce wrote a very short piece, you can't call it an article, it was about sixty or seventy words, for the Paris Edition of the Herald Tribune, which is run by the New York Times, and he said, "Seeger sang an anti American song to the Moscow students."  Well, the New York Times here picked up that little piece and headlined it, "Seeger Sings Anti American Song in Moscow".  And a committee in my home town went up and down the street with petitions saying I should not be allowed to sing for the High School students here. 

I called up the Editor and he agreed – I read him the words of the song – he said, no that's not anti American.  And ... but it was too late.  On the other hand I realized that for 18 years I'd lived in this town and I treated my home town like a hotel, go in, picked up my mail, got my groceries, but I didn't really know anybody in town.  So it taught me an important lesson, and of course, Clearwater (environmental organization) has completely changed that. Toshi and I walk down the street of our home town and people say, "Hi Toshi, Hi Pete" everywhere we go.

Fiona:

But for folk music and community, songs and community singing are such a force for bringing people together and giving people something to share and continue on their collective memory and traditions, it must have been heartbreaking to have that force for good, be turned against you in that way.

Pete:

Well life is a struggle, and I learned.  The happiest people I've ever known in my life were people who were struggling in some way, even when they thought there was no chance.  The Civil Rights Movement was full of high spirits.  The story is that a group of people in one room had just learned a new song.   Somebody came into this office and said, How is everybody today?  And they all broke out with this new song:

Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom.

Woke up this morning with my mind
Stayed on freedom.

It was a preacher who actually wrote it with new words to an old gospel song.  My mind stayed on Jesus, was the original hymn.

Fiona:

Back to that other melody that you sang, that you wrote the words about the Vietnam soldier, where did you first hear that melody?  What was your first association with that melody?  I know it as a song of lost and unrequited love in Scotland, called “I Once Loved a Lass”.

Pete:

I can't remember.  It might be that I heard it from Richard Farina’s song, "The choir kept singing for freedom," about somebody throwing a bomb through the window of a church and killing four children in Sunday school.

Fiona:

And that line for me goes: "Now she's gone to be wed tae another."  Unrequited love.  But, as you said, it's the power of a strong melody. 

Pete:

Hard to say what the original is!

Fiona:

Yes.

Pete:

I guess sometimes the words are so great that they'll get different tunes made up.  I was reading the Book of Ecclesiastes once and jotted down some of the phrases.  I got a letter from my publisher saying, Pete, can't you make up another song like Goodnight Irene?  I can't market these protest songs you keep writing.  And I was a little angry.  I said, you'd better get yourself another song writer, this is the only kind of song I know how to write.  And I pulled these lines out of my pocket and just improvised off the top of my head a melody.  And I had at that time a reel to reel tape recorder, this is about 1959 I think.  And I recorded it and sent it off to him.  I got a nice letter from him a week later.  He said, just wonderful, just what I was looking for.  And he got the song to a famous rock group called The Birds.  They changed my melody very slightly but they basically kept the words.  I rearranged the King James version slightly so that they'd rhyme better and added six words at the very end.  "I swear it's not too late."  This extraordinary piece – oh they did it.

Ecclesiastes in Greek means Teacher.  However, the name who wrote it was named Qoheleth in Hebrew, it means Convoker, somebody who brings people together to speak to them, and he wrote this poetry in what the Greeks called Anaphora, which means that the beginning of each line has the same word, or same phrase.  The line may not rhyme at all, but it's poetry because it has this regular form. Now, this is pure conjecture on my part.  The Greeks had slaves,  Aesops – fables are supposed to be African folk stories, because Aesop was an Ethiopian, and it is very possible that Anaphora was an African rhetorical device which the Greeks picked up on.  No proof whatsoever, but look at how many Dr King's great speeches, "I have a dream, da-da-da, I have a dream, da-da-da-da, I have a dream."  Or "Give us the Vote, da-da-da, Give us the Vote, da-da-da-da Give us the Vote!"  And the Greeks had charged through what is now Israel just previous to the year 252 and they left a trail of Greek culture, Greek statues, Greek architecture and Greek Anaphora.  So that it is very possible that Qoheleth picked up on this new poetry device for his words. 

I use this whenever people get pessimistic about the world.  I say, admittedly, there are great dangers in the world and foolish scientists who invent things they never should invent.  But to say that there's no hope I think is a little unrealistic too.  We've always had good killers around, you know, if you go back far enough, all our ancestors were good killers.  The ones who were not good killers didn't have descendants.  But you and I, our ancestors tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years ago were good killers.  On the other hand, at least for the last fifty thousand years we've been a big brained species who has managed to wipe out the other possible competitors by being able to talk with each other.  Maybe sit around in a circle.  Do we fight or do we run?  Do we stay and starve or do we invade our neighbour's hunting ground and face a fight to the death?  And everybody could speak.  Everybody could speak.  And this great tradition is also in our genes.  So it depends on what time, there's a time for this and a time for that. 

Pete:

A time to be born
A time to die
A time to plant
A time to reap
A time to kill
A time to heal
A time to laugh
A time to week
To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time for every purpose under Heaven.

Oh, I guess I added that word, Turn, Turn, Turn. Qoheleth didn't have that.

Fiona:

The idea of people sitting in a circle to discuss their problems, their challenges, their options also reminded me of people sitting in a circle to sing and share song, and the power of song in that intimate sort of setting.  And another wonderful forum for song sharing has been Sing Out Magazine that you were involved in setting up, and it's continued on and it's sort of it's own song circle through print.

Pete:

Well, we had – right after World War II – Lee Hayes, well Lee Hayes was an extraordinary man, he was the son of a Methodist preacher, who was a good writer of verses and teller of stories, wrote the words of  "If I had a Hammer," "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" and many other songs.  Lee Hayes and I started a little newsletter, "People's Songs" we called it.  I think we had all of two thousand readers when we went bankrupt, we couldn't pay our bills.  And we started up a year later and called our newspaper "Sing Out." And it's still going, not a big circulation, maybe thirteen thousand, but it prints songs which the average newspaper is not going to print, telling what's going on in Iraq, for example, right now.  And encouraging people to write songs.  Not to get rich, but to try and bring people together.  Yes, I ran school newspapers when I was in school.  As a 12 year old I think I sold my little purple inked pieces of paper for 2 cents a copy.  And then the next school I went to I had a scholarship there but I didn't have any allowance, so I tried shining shoes for a nickel a pair, slow going, but I found I could use the school linear graph machine and if I bought the paper and the stencils ... well I started a weekly newsletter and sold an average of 80 or 100 copies and kept the money.  It was free enterprise. 

Fiona:

We talk about the song traditions that continue on and songs get passed on and travel across the ocean.  It strikes me that what is getting passed on and what is travelling is the tradition of wanting to make music and the spirit of wanting to share song.  As much as the actual songs themselves, it's the spirit of sharing song that travels as powerfully as the actual material.

Pete:

Yes, the idea that you don't have to know the theories, you don't even have to know how to read, but if you've got a memory and can remember a song and there's a party there, and after things have warmed up then you can ...   A friend of mine here in Beacon, I'd never heard him sing ever, but we had a good song session at our little Clearwater Club, we called the Beacon Sloop Club, and without any accompaniment he comes out with a song he must have known as a kid and everybody laughed and started singing along with him.  This was Dan Searles.  So yes, when there's a community gathering and things are warmed up, people forget the idea of stage fright or anything like that.  They warm to the occasion.  Not that it's easy.  Almost a hundred years ago John Philip Sousa, a famous bandleader, he wrote the Marching Song and the Stars and Stripes Forever.  He said, "What will happen to the American voice now the phonograph has been invented?" And he's right.  Men used to sing in bars, now they got a TV set there.  Women used to sing lullabies.  Every woman sang lullabies.  Now a few do, but as many ... oh put the kid in front of the tube, he'll fall asleep soon.  So our inventions… I find myself very conservative in some ways.

Fiona:

You've kept your own spirit of wanting to make songs and share songs and to gather people together through song and to empower people through song and long may you continue to do so.

Pete:

Hope so, hope so. 

Doug Orr:

One question to Pete, as someone who has given much of your life to the cause of human rights and social justice, what have been your feelings the last few weeks when Barrack Obama was elected President?

Pete:

It's a great step forward, I believe.  Not just for America, but for the world.  But we'll see though.  I don't expect miracles.  The pressures that any President is under must be unbelievable.  My hope is mainly for small things to save the world, millions of small things.  But occasionally big things happen.  As we know, Dr. King reached Lyndon Johnson and the Voting Rights Act was passed.  Who knows?  Who knows?  A friend of mine was a Naval Commander in WW2 and he believed that sooner or later the United Nations would be changed.  He said, "The great compromise in the American Constitutional Convention was having two houses of Congress, and the slave owners and the rich people liked the Senate and the Jeffersonians liked the House of Representative, but a Bill could not become law unless they both passed it".  He says, "What we need for the United Nations is: you don't have to have two or three houses, just count the vote three ways".  He calls it the "Binding Triad".  My friend was Richard Hudson by name, he's dead now, but his family carries on the fight for the Binding Triad.  When you vote on something, count the vote three ways.  One is one vote per country.  Little Costa Rica gets one vote, big India and big China both get one vote.  Second way of counting would be one vote per person, so Costa Rica gets 3 million votes and India and China both get over a thousand million votes, a billion votes.  And, Henry Kissinger is supposed to have joked once, "I think it should be one dollar one vote". This is how nations pay their dues to the United Nations. You have to pay annual dues, depending on what your gross domestic product is.  So a rich country, even if small, would get a larger number of votes, and a big country, if very poor, won't get so many. 

But if this resolution passes by a majority of all three different ways of counting, you know the little countries like it, the big countries like it, and the rich countries like it.  And then it could be a Binding Triad.  Imagine a tripod. It's steady there, it doesn't rock back and forth.  And then we could get rid of that foolish veto idea by which any one of five countries can cancel out the rest of the world.  Sooner or later something like this is going to be done, could be done sooner than later, but who knows.  Right now I'm amazed to find different things happening.

Fiona:

Well, Pete, thanks for your time and for your anecdotes and wonderful insights.

Pete:

Well you can use all of it or none of it. Your creative editing now takes over. Which is creative editing, what we all should learn, is what parents have to do for children.  Yes, radio stations need to learn it, television, publications.  And a singer faced with an audience decides what song will come next.

Fiona:

Yes definitely.  We could all use a bit more editing.  Somewhere between our brains and our mouths usually would work!  But thank you, thank you for your time and your wonderful insights.