Pete Seeger's Session
A Beliefnet interview with the great folk singer on God, religion, and whether music can change the world.
I feel most spiritual when I’m out in the woods. I feel part of nature. Or looking up at the stars. [I used to say] I was an atheist. Now I say, it’s all according to your definition of God. According to my definition of God, I’m not an atheist. Because I think God is everything. Whenever I open my eyes I’m looking at God. Whenever I’m listening to something I’m listening to God.
I’ve had preachers of the gospel, Presbyterians and Methodists, saying, “Pete, I feel that you are a very spiritual person.” And maybe I am. I feel strongly that I’m trying to raise people’s spirits to get together.
Does writing a song like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” come from somewhere spiritual?
Songwriters can’t explain. You get an idea and you don’t know where it’s come from. And if you’re lucky, you have a pencil or pen and can write it down. I was in an airplane, and leafing in my little pocket notebook where I write down ideas, I came across three lines which I had read in the translation of a famous Soviet novel about the Cossacks and the river Don. Mikhail Sholokhov wrote it in the ‘30s and it was published here in a book called “And Quiet Flows the Don.” And the three lines the translator gave were, “Where are the flowers? The girls have plucked them./ Where are the girls? They’re all married./ Where are the men? They’re all in the army.” Sitting in the airplane I rephrased it and added to it two lines that I made up, “Long time passing” and “When will we ever learn?”—the intellectual’s perennial complaint.
Do you think creativity is spiritual?
I’m sure some people would call it that. And if there is anything such as spiritual, maybe that is it. Arlo Guthrie thinks there’s a stream of songs flowing past you all the time, and you just have to know when to stick out your hand and get one. Then he adds, “I’m lucky that I don’t live downstream from Bob Dylan.”
When people sing together in community, is there a spirit that takes over?
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