I deliberately ignored it all day. Pete Seeger is dead? Keep working. Pete Seeger has died? Keep working. It’s not important. Folk music wizardry cannot divert me.
Then, around 4 p.m., I looked at a YouTube video my cousin Carla posted on Facebook. And looked at more videos, including one of The Weavers at Carnegie Hall not too long ago.
Finally, my connection with the music of Pete Seeger and the people’s music style began to grab me, O, Lord. Pete Seeger is dead. A voice of our time is quiet. A voice that accompanied me through childhood and bathed me in idealism.
There was a day, you see, a day when I knew this music meant something to a lot of people. A day like no other day in the past century. It was Wednesday, September 12, 2001.
The passenger jets that had left Boston the morning before had done their ghoulish job at the hands of terrorist murderers. The jets had been flown into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the ground in Pennsylvania in an act of selflessness by doomed Americans to avoid their jet being used to attack the White House or the Capitol.
On September 12, 2001, the weather was clear and crisp, just like the day before in much of the Northeast and Midwest. The nation’s air traffic had been grounded. There was nothing in the sky when I looked up from Market Street, just in front of the Indiana Statehouse.
Nothing, nothing at all.
The sky was so very clear as people wept. September 12 was the one full day when air traffic was banned, 24/7.
“I saw above me, that endless skyway.”
Woody Guthrie’s words had become true for me that day, literally true, in the song Pete Seeger also popularized.
At noon that day, beckoned by announcements on the radio and in early online communications, several thousand people gathered in downtown Indianapolis and held helds encircling the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle in the heart of the city.
That clear day, the endless skyway appeared in the blue atmosphere above me. It was a skyway where unimaginable things had happened the day before.
And then the Hoosier people sang. They sang for their horror and their loss. And among the tunes they sang, spontaneously and led by no one, was “This Land is Your Land.”
“From California, to the New York Island.”
But something was wrong with the song. The land we shared had been breached.
The people sang the song several times. I sang fortissimo when we got to “the New York Island” the next few times through the chorus. I wanted to reclaim my birthplace. People around me picked up on it. My part of the crowd belted out “New York Island” after that.
The folk songs and style of Pete Seeger with Arlo and Woody Guthrie soothed and saved the Americans on Monument Circle at lunchtime on September 12, 2001.
Now here’s something mysterious: I’ve searched and searched through Google. I cannot find a single photo of that spontaneous vigil on Monument Circle. It’s as if it never happened, as if hundreds or a couple of thousand Hoosiers soothing themselves with singing that day is a memory I’ve made up.
We hurt then. We hurt now, from inequality, war, damage to the Earth, climate, and other scourges.
We shall overcome, one day. When we talk with the Prince of Peace, down by the riverside.
As the man sang. And this is when you click on the YouTube button below…