Photo: Pete Seeger’s homemade banjo with inscription, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."
Pete Seeger is one of the most important figures in the history of American folk music. In the notes to the box set "Washington Square Memoirs,” musicologist Cary Ginell writes that, "the image of Seeger, with his homemade long-neck five string banjo, is synonymous with folk music… Today, only Woody Guthrie equals his status as a folk music icon.“ He believed songs were a way of binding people to a cause. Seeger died Monday at the age of 94.
Terry Gross spoke to the folk legend in 1985. Today we rebroadcast the interview in memory of him.
I mean that’s really why I love Star Wars, besides that space is great. Luke Skywalker has zero toxic masculinity-type issues. He goes to Vader in Return of the Jedi willingly and immediately starts telling him he doesn’t have to live his life filled with hate, and they can just drop the whole thing and leave together. He extends this invitation to a horrible man who has done nothing but hurt him, but Luke is stronger because of his contact with his emotions, his love and acceptance of those around him, the bonds he has with his friends. And it works. Vader, this seven-foot-tall cyborg in a mask who hasn’t had human contact or felt the sun on his face or felt love in twenty-three years, realizes that he has been living wrong. It’s a triumph of softness over might, and it couldn’t make me happier.
This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.
Memories - Pete Seeger with what became his signature instrument, the 5-string banjo. The well-worn face of Mr. Seeger’s banjo was decorated with the message, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” The banjo head was donated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland in 2010. - Andrew Sullivan for The New York Times
Ben & Jerry’s was directly inspired by Pete Seeger’s passionate pursuit of peace and love. Here is our co-founder Ben’s ode to Pete and his legacy:
I knew Pete Seeger a bit, and to me he embodied the best of what it means to be a person in this world. He used his whole self—his gifts, his body, his voice, his soul, his spirit—to lead and speak out for kindness and decency and love—to advocate for the people that have been and those that continue to be mistreated by our society.
It was Pete Seeger and his songs that introduced me to folk music and to the civil rights struggle and the anti war movement.
And it was the words inscribed on his banjo—“This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”– that led me to understand that he was not a folk singer. He was a political activist. He used what he had—his talent for making and writing music– to fight systems of oppression.
He never gave up. As he got older and his voice started to give out, he never stopped. He would get up in front of the audience and barely croak out the words and ask the audience to help him out. And the singing that came back was resounding.
He has told a little story many times. And he once told it to me personally. I was feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere in my efforts to shift federal spending from the pentagon to social needs, and I told him that I was starting to think that all my hard work was for nought. He told me a story about walking along one day and coming upon this huge seesaw with a big heavy rock on the side that was down and a big bucket on the side that was up. There were all these little people scurrying around with teaspoons taking sand from a big pile and climbing up a ladder and dumping it in the bucket and then going back for more sand. But Pete noticed that there were holes in the bucket and the sand was running out as fast as they were putting it in. So he grabbed one of the guys with the teaspoons and said, “Don’t you see? The sand’s running out as fast as you’re putting it in. You’re never gonna get that seesaw to switch around”.
And the guy stopped for a moment, mopped his brow and said, “Oh, you don’t understand. There’s more of us with teaspoons all the time and sooner or later we’re gonna be putting sand into the bucket faster than it’s leaking out and then shwoop, the seesaw will switch, and people are gonna say, “How did that happen so fast?” and we’ll just say “us and our little teaspoons.”
He was an inspiration to me. And if at sometime I’m able to make some headway on the oppression that we’ve been fighting, it will be because I have walked in his footsteps.