Pete Seeger: Alive and Kickin’ at 89

Imagine the scene. You’ve just taken a leisurely jog down a trail that hugs the Hudson River. You’re nearing the dock where a farmer’s market is in progress, and you hear the familiar tune She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountains.

She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes
She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes
She’ll be driving six white horses, she’ll be driving six white horses,
She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes

Getting closer, you see a bearded, rangy man of indeterminate age in blue jeans strumming a banjo. No, you’re not hallucinating. At 89, Pete Seeger is playing for farmers’ market shoppers outside his Sloop House in Beacon, N.Y.

How many singers out there can pepper their performances with asides like “This is a song that Woody Guthrie taught me”? Say what?

I did a little research on Seeger, the legendary folk singer who has been a driving force behind the revitalization of this gritty mill town. Among my generation, he’s best known for writing the Byrds hit Turn Turn Turn and the folk classics If I Had a Hammer (co-written with Lee Hays) and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? recorded by Peter Paul & Mary and others. My mother knows him for Goodnight Irene.

Guess what? Today, Sept. 30, he’s released a new CD called, of all things, At 89.

Here’s Seeger’s chart, courtesy of Astrodienst. He’s got a Sun/Mars conjunction in artsy Taurus. He was briefly a painter before becoming a singer and musician. His popular folk band was called The Weavers, which has a very Taurean feel to it. The chart is set for noon because I don’t know the time of birth.

Mars is very active and it’s with the life force of the Sun in a Venusian sign. Think about that Mars when you hear:

If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land
I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out a warning
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Seeger is a crusader. And look at his longevity: He’s basically a marathoner among folk singers. There is tremendous physical endurance in this chart.

The Taurus conjunction is sextiled by a strong stellium in Cancer, including a Jupiter that is quite close to the U.S. Sun and is very tightly aspected to his own Sun. Along with Guthrie, Seeger is the prototypical American troubadour.

Although he did not write it, Seeger adapted and helped popularize We Shall Overcome before it became the anthem of the civil rights movement. (To musicologists and African-Americans reading this: Don’t worry, I’m not trying to give him credit for the Negro spiritual. It was a black thang long before Seeger arrived; he merely helped spread the gospel, so to speak.)

Back to Seeger’s Jupiter in Cancer, which rules spirituality. As he did for his rendition of We Shall Overcome, Seeger drew on historical material for Turn Turn Turn: The Bible, no less. Those familiar with the Byrds classic will recognize the words of Ecclesiastes 3:2: There is “a time to be born, a time to die, a time to sow, a time to reap.”

Bruce Springsteen gave a new generation an introduction to Seeger with his folkie album and tour We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions, in 2006. It was the first album recorded by Springsteen that didn’t showcase his own material, and was not a commercial success in the U.S. However, it was critically acclaimed overseas, where they generally appreciate “classics” more than Americans do.

Get this: Seeger has an out-of-sign opposition of Saturn in Leo and Uranus in Pisces. Sound familiar? The aspect between restriction and rebellion in his chart is similar to the one between Saturn and Uranus that’s going to be exact on Election Day, though Saturn is currently in Virgo, not Leo, as it is in Seeger’s chart.

At 89, Seeger is back in tune with the times. Some would say he was never out of tune; we just weren’t listening. Let’s just say he’s striking a chord once again.

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Seeger’s not afraid of another Depression. He had the time of his life criss-crossing the country with Guthrie in the late Thirties, holding concerts in support of striking workers, a journey that gave rise to Guthrie’s standard This Land is Your Land.

You know, they never taught me the last two verses in school. Do you know them?

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Chorus

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

Saturn in Virgo: Handmade Nation

Folks, something really big is happening out there. As usual, I’m late to the party and I’m going to wax nostalgic about my Army brat childhood somewhere in this post.

First, kudos to Gastriques, my faithful tipster, who sent me a link a few weeks ago about Etsy, a eBay for handmade crafts. Duly noted, but not yet a trend in my mind. Then, last Thursday, while I was reading The New York Times (which used to benefit from the insight of Gastriques), I noticed an article in the Home section about the modern-day mother of Handmade Nation: a crafty chick called Faythe Levine.

So far, so good. Then I noticed that Jim Kunstler, my guru on the post-oil future, has written a book called World Made by Hand, a novel about an apocalyptic future where we’re not knitting sweaters for fun or to express our creativity. Handmade Nation, World Made by Hand: I sense a trend here.

Today, I stopped on Main Street in Beacon, N.Y., to participate in our “Second Saturday,” where there are always lots of gallery openings and other interesting happenings (as they used to say on Mod Squad. I stopped by Paper Presence to admire the window full of origami cranes, a continuation of the dream of Hiroshima victim Sadako Sasaki, and then stepped into a garage-cum-workshop with saws, hammers, and other tools artistically displayed on the wall.

This was the venue of the Handmade Calvacade of Etsy vendors that rolled into Beacon. The vendors were mostly hipsters from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who had to restrain themselves from rolling their eyes when I asked: “What’s Etsy?” Of course, I knew, but the journalist in me had to play dumb to get information. I bought a couple of really cool tote bags made from embossed Indian burlap sacks and decorated with ribbon and beads.

The Handmade Calvacade seems to be a younger, groovier version of the craft bazaar that is well-known to church ladies and militry wives. I remember in the early Seventies when my Mom complained that the general’s wife at Fort Riley, Kans. was snubbing her because she didn’t knit enough hats for the Officers Wives Club’s Christmas bazaar. Yes, crafty folks can get catty and petty.

What’s driving all this hipster interest in making things by hand? It’s definitely Saturn in Virgo, which is fueling an appreciation for craftsmanship. But I believe this trend is being electrified by the opposition with Uranus in Pisces. By buying something handmade at Etsy, I’m declaring to the world that I’ve rejected the crap at the mall in favor of unique things made by hand, and I’m on the cutting edge.

The handmade movement seems a little more gritty and low-budget than the upscale arts and crafts exhibition held in places like Lincoln Center and Grand Central Terminal in New York. It also seems more political than artsy-fartsy.

Making things by hand can indeed be revolutionary. Think of Gandhi with his spinning wheel, exhorting Indians to reject the textiles made in British mills.

Who is the loser in the handmade movement? Wal-Mart, with all its cheesy Chinese goods. Who is the winner? Wal-Mart, the only store in my neighborhood where you can still buy fabric by the yard, an embroidery hoop, thread, and other tools of the crafty trades.

Let me leave you with my reminiscence of the coolest mall I ever visited. It was in Japan, where peak shopping experiences abound. The mall that blew my mind was near Mount Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. This was a place where you could drop in unannounced and learn how to make handmade paper, arrange flowers, or do calligraphy. Yes, I was a consumer. I was spending money. But after two or so hours, I left with something I had made by hand.

What did the adults do with the kids? Well, this crafts center mall had day care, a working farm, and a petting zoo!

I’ve got to study Japan’s chart, but I think this nation epitomizes the yen (pun intended!) to make something by hand. I also think the Land of the Rising Sun has a great appreciation for nature and generally knows how to live in a civilized fashion, though I can do without the special slippers for the loo.

I’ve written previously about the Japanese version of Ikea, a store called Muji, which I think epitomizes Saturn in Virgo.

Obviously, the crafts revival has been percolating for quite while in the U.S. It never went out of fashion if you were a member of 4-H and working on a quilt for the county fair. But the handmade movement seems ready to go mainstream in a big way.

What are you making by hand? It’s not too early to start making your holiday gifts because I’m predicting this will be a Handmade Christmas, Yuletide, Saturnalia, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa.

Sadako Sasaki: The Saint of Hiroshima


As I noted in an earlier post, today is the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, the most horrific act that man has ever committed against his fellow man.

I’m amazed that there hasn’t been more outrage about dropping a nuclear bomb on innocent civilians. Although President Harry S Truman described Hiroshima as a “military base” when he told the nation of his decision to drop the bomb, in fact, civilians outnumbered military personnel by six to one, according to this Web site.

I think the Japanese are so used to keeping a low profile that the horror of Hiroshima — and Nagasaki two days later — hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.

Yes, the Japanese brought the U.S. into World War II by bombing Pearl Harbor. Yes, they committed great atrocities such as the so-called Rape of Nanking and subjecting POWs to the Bataan death march. Let’s not forget the Korean “comfort women” enlisted for the sexual pleasure of Japanese soldiers.

But dropping a nuclear bomb is exponentially worse than any of these other acts of violence. However, as the saying goes, it is the victors who write history, and the Japanese lost.

When I went to a demonstration outside the United Nations on Aug. 6, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, there were a just handful of protestors gathered on a windy, rainy day. It was me and a few Old Guard Jewish Commies from the Bronx — the same people who had been attacked at the Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, N.Y. in 1949 and who protested in Union Square against the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953.

Then 35, I was the youngest face in the crowd. It made me sad that there were no students in front of the U.N. “Who will remember Hiroshima when these octagenarian activists go to their eternal rest?” I asked myself.

Now I know. It seems that Sadako Sasaki, a little girl from Hiroshima who died of leukemia caused by the Hiroshima bomb, is capturing the hearts of schoolchildren around the world more than 60 years after her death in 1955.

According to the Wiki, Sadako’s best friend taught her how to fold origami cranes while Sadako was dying in the hospital. Sadako tried to make 1,000 of them because there is a Japanese story that if you do this, you will get your wish. Sadako’s wish was a simple one — to live.

Sadako died before she reached her goal of 1,000 cranes, according to the Wiki, but she made more than 600. Her friends made up the difference so she was buried with 1,000 of the paper birds.

A Capricorn born Jan. 7, 1943, Sadako was memorialized in Eleanor Coerr’s classic children’s book Sadako Sasaki and the 1,000 Cranes. If you’d like to look at Sadako’s chart, you can see it here, courtesy of Astrodienst.

Along with Sadako’s natal chart, I’ve called up the transits of Aug. 6, the day the bomb was dropped. I wish I knew what time she was born because I think that could tell us a lot more about her iconic role in the peace movement.

Sadako’s visibility will be on the rise this year as Jupiter transits Capricorn and lights up her stellium in Cap, which includes Sun, Mercury, Venus, and possibly the Moon, depending on when she was born. This year’s Jupiter transit also opposes Sadako’s natal Jupiter in Cancer.

Sadako Sasaki may not be a household name, but today children all over the world make origami cranes, posters featuring doves of peace, and other art through the auspices of the Peace Pals Project of the World Peace Prayer Society. Their wish? That war will stop and that there will never be another atomic bomb dropped.

What’s really exciting for me is that in September, artwork from Peace Pals all over the world will be on display for a week in my hometown of Beacon, N.Y. One of the catalysts for this event has been our Main Street stationery store, Paper Presence, which also runs an annual kite-making competition.

When I was researching Sadako to write this post, it struck me that she is Japan’s answer to Anne Frank, an enduring symbol of goodness in a world gone mad. It’s fitting that a child is the messenger of peace because the Sun was in Leo at the time of the Hiroshima bombing and Leo rules children. Children do have the power to change the world!

(The Lack of) Money Changes Everything

In my working-class hamlet of Beacon, N.Y., the houses sit cheek to jowl. The yards are only about one-third of an acre each in this part of town. My husband and I bought our house after living in an apartment, so the coziiness normally doesn’t bother us. Having said that, I was awakened from an afternoon nap by the sounds of screaming from a nearby home.

This marital spat wasn’t about another woman, the husband not picking up his dirty socks (something Barack Obama is apparently guilty of), or the wife going on a secret shopping spree. “If you ever bring my car back on empty after borrowing it, don’t bother to come home,” she yelled. “I don’t have enough money to fill it up and I’ve got to go to work.”

Has it come to this?

Groffoto has another take on this subject. Here’s the link: http://groffoto.wordpress.com/2008/06/12/rv-for-free/

Don’t let my husband see that photo. We’ll be living in that RV before you know it!

Savoring the Long Days of June

Moving from Southern California to New York State on June 1 does have its benefits. Longer days, to name one: 38 minutes longer, if this Web site is correct: http://www.sunrisesunset.com/

That’s the difference between the length of the day right now in New York City, vs. Los Angeles. I’m using these two cities as surrogates for Palm Springs, Calif., and Beacon, N.Y.

What do you do with 38 minutes of extra daylight? Well, if you’re me, you use it to walk to Ron’s Ice Cream on Fishkill Avenue and buy your first ice cream cone of the season. The rule in our house is that if my husband and I are going to Ron’s, we must walk. The thinking is that we will burn up the calories we consume in the ice cream cone during the walk to and from Ron’s, which is about a half-mile from our house.

I love to go out during the so-called magic hour (a term used by cinematographers, which I first learned about in the 1992 documentary Visions of Light). The magic hour is actually a few minutes before the sun goes down, not a whole hour. This period is prized by photographers because the light is diffuse and everything is bathed in a warm, golden glow. The harshness of daylight has disappeared and the sensuality of dusk is approaching.

Some people get a hopeful feeling at sunrise. Not me. I was born a few minutes before midnight, so I think I’m a night owl by design.

I made my magic hour trek to Ron’s by myself because Jim is still in Palm Springs. I ate my Hershey’s Peanut Butter Cup single cone on a bench where I see a Little League game in progress under the lights. No, not the Friday Night Lights, the Monday ones.

When I turned my head in the other direction, I could see the top of Mount Beacon, where patriots set fires during the Revolutionary War to signal information about British troop movements to George Washington, who was headquartered across the Hudson River in Newburgh.

What’s interesting to me in this old mill town is how many people jump in their Jeep Cherokees and Ford Explorers to travel a mile or less to grab a cone at Ron’s or a six-pack or lottery ticket at the corner deli. What is it going to take to get folks out of their SUVs and on their feet? Gas at $5 a gallon? $10?

There is a strange juxtaposition right now in Beacon and maybe in the U.S. On the one side, the tree huggers are apologizing for their carbon footprints and busily establishing compost piles in the backyards. On the other are those who feel that unlimited gasoline usage is their birthright. Is there an in-between in America?

To my mind, this would involve a sensible approach to conservation without finger-pointing from the Greens and temper tantrums from the gas guzzlers. It might also revive the quaint habit of walking to the store, the library, the ice cream stand. The only people who seem to walk in this town are children and senior citizens, though more bicycles seem to have arrived since I left here on Jan. 30.

Can we find a healthy place between self-flagellation for despoiling the planet and mindless consumption? I hope so.