Pete Seeger’s Advice Column in Seventeen Magazine

I am reading Bob Coltman’s book, Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival.  Coltman mentions that Pete Seeger wrote an advice column that was published in Seventeen magazine.

That seemed pretty interesting, and a web search picked up the article.  I pasted it below since the website was producing some weird errors.


A singer of folksongs gives his own seven and a half pillars of wisdom.


I usually mistrust older people’s giving advice to younger, because while often their advice is very good (the values of foresight, temperance, persistence, etc.), they forget that younger people usually know one of the most important things of all: the value of enthusiasm and enjoyment of life.

Twenty-five years ago, Franklin Roosevelt spoke to my generation. “Youth: hold fast to your dream,” he said. In other words don’t give up your ideals of peace, freedom, justice, truth – the way as many adults do. When you come down to it, more people die from discouragement than any disease. And why do people get discouraged? Because they feel that life’s a joyless struggle; because they feel they’re on a dead-end street.

So here are a few of my own recipes for avoiding this kind of discouragement. They may or may not apply to you. Only you can decide.

1. It’s better to take a job you want at less pay than a job you don’t want for more pay. But you can learn from any job.

2. It’s okay to suffer intense temporary discomforts in order to reach a longer-range goal. But make sure it is only temporary.

3. Debts can be chains, best used when they can haul you to new heights, rather than entangle your legs. It’s the same with possessions. “Man doesn’t possess possessions: they possess us”.

4. Travel while you are young, and still are free of responsibilities. See what a big, broad, beautiful land we have here, then maybe a foreign land or two. See that there are honest, hard-working people in every corner of the globe, all quite certain that their own way of living, their local geography, their music, etc. is most beautiful.

5. Keep your health. It’s easy while you are young. But our fine, tempting, modern civilization can erode it easily too. Many a man or woman has finally worked himself into a position where he could do something, and then found he no longer had the health to do it or enjoy it.

5½. In view of the fact that good health and energy don’t last forever, it’s worth doing some things earlier than later. When my wife and I were about thirty and very broke, we built own our house, inch by inch, on a mountainside. Glad we did; doubt we’d have energy enough to do it now. And I’ve known too many people who put off such projects “until we have the money” or “until we have the time” – and if they eventually did get the money or the time, they no longer had the energy.

6. A happy sex life may take years to achieve, but it’s worth it in the long run. Worth the time, the thought – or rather, the thoughtfulness – and, often, the waiting.

7. A few short ones: Prestige is much overrated. The celebrity business is for the birds. Respectability is nice, but consider: whom do you most want to respect you? Money is like air or water. You need a certain amount to live. Beyond that, who wants to be a dog in the manger?

And now I’ll stop before I rattle on any longer, like any old graybeard. All the foregoing applies to the one central thing I mentioned at the beginning: how to keep discouragement from withering the priceless enthusiasm which most young people have.

So far I’ve quoted FDR and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here are a few more favorite quotes. (Note: When you steal one person it’s plagiarism. When you steal from ten, it’s scholarship. When you steal from a hundred, it’s original research.)

First, a story about the late comedian Fred Allen. He once saw a small boy toddle in front of a truck and snatched him to safety just in time. On the sidewalk again, he said, “S’matter kid: don’t you want to grow up and have troubles?”

Next, a fragment from the German poet Bertolt Brecht.

. . .For we know only too well:

Even the hatred of squalor

Makes the brow grow stern;

Even anger against injustice

Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we

Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness

Could not ourselves be kind.

Here’s a famous line credited to Gandhi: “To the millions who have to go without two meals a day, the only form in which God dare appear is food.” A line from a Harvard graduate back from Africa: “Nigerians are a proud people who don’t want tourists, don’t want heroes, don’t want saviors. They just want schoolteachers.”

Now, a paragraph from Woody Guthrie the dustbowl balladeer who taught me much not only about music but about my country and life in general: “The worst thing that can happen to you is to cut yourself loose from people. And the best thing is to sort of vaccinate yourself right into the bloodstreams of the people. . . to feel that you know the best and the worst of folks that you see everywhere, and never to feel weak, or lost, or even lonesome anywhere. . .There is just one thing that can cut you from the people and that is any brand or style of greed. . .There is just one way to save yourself, and that’s to get together and work and fight for everybody.”

Lastly I quote the words of a song I put together last year, using words from the book of Ecclesiastes.

“To everything (turn turn turn)
There is a season (turn turn turn)
And a time for every purpose
Under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die,
A time to plant, a time to reap,
A time to kill, a time to heal,
A time to laugh, a time to weep.

A time to build up, a time to break down,
A time o dance, a time to mourn,
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together.

A time of love, a time of hate,
A time of war, a time of peace,
A time you may embrace,
A time to refrain from embracing.

A time to gain, a time to lose,
A time to rend, a time to sew,
A time to love, a time to hate,
A time for peace – I swear, it’s not too late!

To everything (turn turn turn)
There is a season (turn turn turn)
And a time for every purpose
Under heaven.”

Well, here’s hoping all the foregoing will help you avoid a few dead-end streets (we all hit some), and here’s hoping enough of your dreams come true to keep you optimistic about the rest. We’ve got a big world to learn how to tie together. We’ve all got a lot to learn. And don’t let your studies interfere with your education.

Pete Seeger

2 thoughts on “Pete Seeger’s Advice Column in Seventeen Magazine”

  1. The column was actually a monthly in which, in each month, a different well-known personality would offer advice. So Pete only did one installment. Then in went on to actresses and actors and other songsters, authors, etc.

  2. Very strange but lovely to learn that Pete Seeger wrote an advice column directed at teenage girls. If I may include a personal anecdote: As a teen I was enthralled by Seventeen Magazine, (when I could get my hands on one) and spent hours dreaming about how wonderful it would be, how happy I would be, if I could look like those beautiful girls and have their beautiful, stylish clothes instead of the hand-me-downs of a “maiden” aunt who just happened to be my size. I especially liked Pete’s #3, though I must admit, it and all the rest of his advice would have gone over my head at the time. I think the same could be said of most teen girls of the late fifties- early sixties, at least the ones I knew. “Debts can be chains, best used when they can haul you to new heights, rather than entangle your legs. It’s the same with possessions. “Man doesn’t possess possessions: they possess us.”An excellent paper below on how young women and women in general were [are] groomed to be consumers.…/V_Martins_Lamb_-_Civi_2011.pdfVanessa Martins Lamb “The 1950’s and 1960’s and the American Woman: the transition from the “housewife” to the feminist” The Consumer Society, page 10 of 109Another sector of this society benefited from the suburbs: the car industry. Families were living far from schools, from business and shopping areas and required a fast and efficient means of transportation. The car became a status symbol; manufacturers launched new models regularly and fostered the feeling that car s were an indication of success. With the development of these communities, business leaders saw an opportunity to develop their activities. Stores, malls and huge parking lots were installed on roads, therefore democratizing further the well-known “consumer society”.The economy opened up and the way of life of the population reflected this. These changes were particularly noticeable in fashion, in technological and industrial growth. Computers, transistors, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and microwaves became popular and the majority of them were very affordable. The most developed home appliance was by far the television set. Developed in the 1930’s, television was the essential equipment in the house and in the life of a 1950’s family. As a result, society experienced a “baby-boom”: there were 24.3 million children between 5 and 14 years in the 1950’s and 35.5 million in the 1960’s. In 1956 America had 13 million teenagers who wanted to live a different life from their parent’s generation. They were more autonomous than the former generation; they did not have the concern to save money which their parents had at their age. All the money they gained was spent quickly in clothing, accessories for the hairstyle or rock’n roll recordsMichael Kammen, “American Culture, American Tastes”“cultural power depends on the production, promotion and dissemination of cultural artifacts”. “Thousands of people at an amusement park as opposed to many tens of millions worldwide watching the Super Bowl in January. Popular culture is more often than not, as participatory and interactive, whereas mass culture…induces passivity and the privatization of culture.”Kammen’s NY Times obituary…/michael-kammen-historian-of-us…Excerpt: In “American Culture, American Tastes” (1999), he drew a distinction between popular culture (which in his view encompassed old-fashioned participatory entertainments like vaudeville and county fairs) and mass culture (including more solitary electronic pursuits like television, video games and the Internet), arguing that by the late 20th century the boundary between the two had become indistinct.Thomas Hine“I Want That!How We All Became Shoppers”…“People giggle at shopping, perhaps, because of the absurdity of humanity’s fate—looking for a bargain in an indifferent universe. Shopping is ridiculous because what our spirits need is so vastly out of proportion to the goods we settle for. Like the prizes bestowed by the Wizard of Oz, the treasures we cart home don’t begin to satisfy the longings that sent us on our journeys.”
    about an hour ago

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top