Before Pete Seeger had a hammer, he had a bicycle

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Singer-songwriter-political activist Pete Seeger, known for penning such songs as “If I Had a Hammer,” died on Monday at age 94.

While I’ve enjoyed the message in his music over the years, what struck me this morning was the line in many obits that Seeger “dropped out of Harvard University in 1938 to ride a bicycle across the country.”

What a bike trip that must have been. Imagine Seeger the troubador carrying his banjo on his bicycle as he pedaled across the Depression-era American landscape, plunking out tunes along the way to pay for food and lodging.

Apparently that’s not exactly how it happened, however.

Rik Palieri interviewed Seeger for the Digital Folklife a few years ago. Seeger told him he didn’t take his banjo on his bicycle trip, but carried a watercolor set on a summer trip riding through New England and New York State. He never went hungry.

I’d sit in the cow pasture and paint a house that looked nice, put some pretty clouds in the sky, and often there was one there, and I’d knock on the door and I’d say, “I painted a picture of your house, would you like to see?” And the man’d say, “Hey, Ma, come look, somebody’s painted a picture of our house.” And then I’d say, “Would you like to have it?” And they’d say, “Well, gee, what do you want for it?” And I’d say, “Well, I’m camping out, and if I could get some food, eat some vegetables out of your garden, and it looks like it’s gonna rain tonight, could I sleep in your barn?”

After that, Seeger got around by hitchhiking and jumping freights.

I’ll miss Seeger and his music and his support for the little guy. We need more like him.

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