November 2, 2012

A Pete Seeger Kind of Life

There’s a lot of music in our lives. I’m not sure if this is because my grandparents are retired music teachers or if Gretchen just likes music all on her own, but trust me, there isn’t a day that goes by when we aren’t listening to music.

Sometimes it’s the radio streaming through the computer with the likes of Handel or Mozart or James Taylor or The Weepies. Sometimes it’s a random selection from the computer’s extensive music library — singers and groups with names like Nina Simone, The Wyrd Sisters, Fleet Foxes, Sara Jarosz, The Be Good Tanyas, Thomas Mapfumo, or The Waifs. Sometimes there’s the regular radio on and we hear music from different programs like NPR or Snap Judgment or my personal favorite, Radio Lab. Rarely, RARELY is there silence and by silence I mean “no music.”

Music plays while Gretchen cooks or while Ann studies her plant identifications or Gretchen practices tracing meridians on my body (it’s not as bad as it sounds…it actually feels pretty good!). Music surrounds us while I nap under the desk or Ann sorts the laundry or Gretchen works on the computer sorting photographs or writing or researching things like Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy. Yes, it’s a mouthful.

Music is a constant and while there’s some music I like more than other (I particularly like my own CD called “Through a Dog’s Ear), a house full of music, I’ve decided, is much more pleasant than a house not filled with music.

So the other day when NPR had a story on about Pete Seeger (famous folk hero who is still kicking at 93 years old!), I asked Gretchen to turn up the volume (I cannot reach the dial) so we could listen. While I’ve just recently been introduced to Seeger’s music (and influence on all kinds of music), Gretchen has fond memories of listening to Pete Seeger (and the Weavers) as a child. As I’ve said, my grandparents are retired music teachers and while they are officially “retired” they haven’t retired from the power of music in their lives. So it doesn’t surprise me that Gretchen spent her childhood exposed to all kinds of music and though she listened to operas and concertos alongside of rock n’ roll and jazz, she has a sentimental soft spot for all things folk — or as they call it now, singer-songwriters.

Pete Seeger is, perhaps, the epitome of a singer-songwriter and as we listened to his audio profile on the NPR story, I had to laugh when he said, in effect, that the best song has simple ideas expressed in one to two syllable words. All this week that idea stuck with me as I sang (in my head as I don’t sing out loud) some of my favorite folk songs. Think about it — Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” is all one to two syllable words or Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” (okay, so Roll on Columbia has Co-lum-bia in it which breaks the rules, but hey, the river was named before he wrote the song).

But aside from Seeger’s words of advice about how to write a good folk song, his whole view of life inspired me as well. On his banjo he has this slogan written: This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender. He put that on his banjo (a simple instrument with a complicated sound) after seeing a similar sign on Woody Guthrie’s guitar that said, “This machine kills fascists.” At 93 years old, he still writes songs, splits his own firewood, and fights for good causes like the saving of the Hudson River or against war and bigotry.

This is a man who has stuck to his convictions for a very long time. He’s never “sold out,” never given in to the latest trends in order to make money or gain fame, and he’s never once forgotten his roots. He lives simply and spends time singing with lots of different famous musicians as well as visiting local school music programs to share his songs and this history with kids.

You know how there’s certain people (or even dogs) who you are drawn to? People who make you feel good about yourself or even just offer a sense of calm and acceptance that sometimes you can’t quite find for yourself? Well, I think Pete Seeger would be that for me. I mean, not that I want to leave my family and go live with him, but I think living with him would be a pretty sweet way of life. Perhaps my anxiety wouldn’t be so great. Perhaps I could learn a few new songs and spend my days traveling to schools to help Pete sing or collect the firewood that he chops or just curl up under his feet while he plays a simple tune on his banjo.

Okay. I know this isn’t my life and I know that living with Pete Seeger isn’t going to happen so I’ve decided to just go ahead and live a Pete Seeger kind of life without him. I’m practicing patience and kindness. I’m trying to fight for good causes. I’m trying to see the beauty in every day and take each day at a much slower pace (not always easy to do when you’re a working dog!). I’m considering asking Gretchen to put a sign on me that reads, “This dog surrounds bigotry and hatred with love and a wiggle” but I hate wearing things so I’m not sure how that’s going to work out.

I’ve decided that since I can’t sing well nor play an instrument that I need to use my adorable curls and wiggly body to express my joy for life. I’ve decided to be less grumpy when the weather turns wet and cold and stop to notice colors of nature that surround me and point out to my friends the importance of running wild through the woods or just hanging out with your best pals.

This week was all about sharing my Pete Seeger view of life with my pals. I started with the youngest…Cosmo. And wouldn’t you know it, but right when I was telling him to really pay attention to the world around him, he saw a bird fly overhead and looked up. Good boy, Cosmonaut! What a special boy.

Roux was next and she said, “Let’s go out today and practice what you’re preaching, Rubes!” so we ran through the woods and chased squirrels (none were harmed and trust me, they love to be chased!) and smiled among the leaves and mud!

Carter and Kali took my words more seriously and pondered the deeper meanings of cormorants on the water and the fall colors as they fade.





Woobie (or Nanny Woobie as I call her now since she has a baby in her house that she’s raising) contemplated my words in her typical Woobie fashion…with equal parts happiness and seriousness, both in color and in black and white.





Tyson and I spent magical moments watching the weather change right before our eyes and did our best to hold paws…

Monty, of all my friends, probably lives a Pete Seeger life already, finding in joy around every corner and in every friend. He is able to make friends with just about everyone and even the most picky of dogs can find a friend in Monty. He is able to soothe the most nervous, console the hesitant, and make everyone he meets laugh and relax. He’s done this with Tyson and with our dearest and oldest friend, Quillette. In fact, when Quillette see Monty she gets all giddy and does a happy old lady dance. And her smile is as wide as wide can be.

Now that I think of it, Tyson does the same thing though it’s not an old lady dance!

And Ben (who we watched a couple times this week) took us around his garden showing us the beauty that surrounds him every day.





If I could play the banjo, I’d write a song about Pete Seeger and the Pete Seeger kind of life. But unfortunately I like thumbs nor do I own a banjo. I do, however, own a heart and I’m doing my best to open it as wide as I possibly can…just like Pete does…each and every day. In fact, I think I even surprised Gretchen when we met a stranger on the dock by the lake and I wiggled up to her like she was a long lost friend. I rarely if ever do that and the smile on Gretchen’s face (as well as the stranger’s) was worth it!

Have a great weekend everyone and don’t forget you get an extra hour this weekend! Have fun practicing your Pete Seeger kind of life…I will!




One Reply to “November 2, 2012”

  1. Dear Rubin–Your blog today about Pete Seeger just made my heart bounce. He would have loved you, and especially your curls. I bet he might even have been a bit jealous of your curls. I’m glad he has lived such a long and good life so that you could know about him. He has brought much joy to many thousands of people ( dogs too, I’m sure) and I’m glad we could all be part of that crowd. Have another Pete Seeger day tomorrow.

    Tell your moms that I telephoned about 96 people today to urge them to VOTE for a whole bunch of good people on their ballots. Don’t forget to mail your ballots also. Love from Grandpa and Grandma
    P.S. Grandpa watched football games all day. OREGON won again tonight, but I bet you already knew that.

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