Pete Seeger has died, but "Turn! Turn! Turn!" lives on

Categories: Farewell
Photo Courtesy of Econosmith

The legendary folk musician and activist Pete Seeger died Monday at the age of 94. He left a legacy of indelible music and social change. His memorable songs and his unifying spirit course through the heart of modern music, and influenced the current nu-folk movement straight through to arena rock stars like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Wilco, and countless others.

Seeger's songs were often simple but carried enduring, hopeful messages of togetherness, tolerance, resistance, and change that spoke to one generation after the next. A celebrated number like "Turn! Turn! Turn!" -- which Seeger adapted from Bible verses drawn from the Book of Ecclesiastes -- served as a counterculture activist anthem (and a No. 1 hit for the Byrds) in the '60s, but the song still resonates today.

Today it seems inconceivable for a number-one pop hit to feature lyrics that come directly from scripture, but Seeger had a rare gift of drawing on different sources and themes in his work, all while unifying disparate segments of society under his just cause. "Turn! Turn! Turn!" wasn't a naive, feeble hippie anthem, either.

It was full of a clear-eyed understanding of the fitful, violent times themselves -- "A time to kill...a time of war...a time of hate..." -- but those aggressive actions were given a quick corollary that we should all strive toward instead -- "A time to heal...a time of peace...a time of love...." And the subtle but powerful inclusion of exclamation points in the title was a pointed, insistent call to action for everyone to enact a change and make a difference, and a statement that the era of submissive compliance was a part of the past.

This was a message that carried through much of Seeger's work as well as his distinguished life -- that we shouldn't ever be blind to the ills and tragedies in the world, but to also be determined that there is a better way to live and a more compassionate way to interact with your fellow man. He knew that music was his best way of getting that benevolent message across to people, and he continued to share his gifts for the better part of his long, extraordinary life.

In addition to the Byrds' hit version, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" was also recorded by Jan & Dean, the Seekers, Nina Simone, Dolly Parton, and numerous others, as well as showing up in the live sets of current artists like Bruce Springsteen, Tori Amos, and Belle and Sebastian, who opened their shows with the song at their live performances in the Pacific Northwest on 9/11 and the days following the tragedy.

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