Pete Seeger had a unique standing among the folk explosion that came out of New York City in the early 1960s. Having scored major chart hits before the modern era of pop and rock and roll started, Seeger had lived an entire life of musical highs and lows by the time his idiom (folk, Americana, protest music) received national attention. Figures like Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk could take after his examples, while other artists like Peter, Paul, and Mary and The Byrds could rework his songs into major pop songs.
The beginnings of the folk-rock revival happened at a necessary point for Seeger: having been blacklisted during the McCarthy era thanks to his progressive politics, Seeger was at a low point in terms of finances and visibility. As some of the most famous artists of the time began to cite him as a key figure in the folk movement, Seeger was able to return to large venues and television shows to re-establish himself as the elder statesman of the genre.
By 1970, Seeger had once again lived another full musician’s life: he rode the folk-rock wave as it peaked in the mid-1960s, he notched a number one hit in the US thanks to The Byrds version of ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, and he infamously was among the acoustic purists who were against Dylan’s switch to electric rock and roll. In his defence, Seeger was a fan of Dylan’s electric songs but felt that he should stick to playing acoustic live due to the faulty sound systems in most venues. His example was once again used as the framework of success when a young Canadian named Joni Mitchell found her way to the US in the mid-60s.
When fellow folkie John Hartford invited Mitchell and Seeger on to his television special Gentle on My Mind, Seeger approached Mitchell with an unusual request: he wanted to duet with her on ‘Both Sides Now’, but he wanted to add a fourth verse. Mitchell’s tale of innocence and naivety would be augmented by a final observation from the central character’s father, advising her and everyone to accept their lack of experience as a good thing and help others “turn and face the sun”.
Daughter, daughter, don’t you know
You’re not the first to feel just so?
So let me say, before I go,
It’s worth it any way.
Some day we all may be surprised,
We’ll wake, and open up our eyes
And then at last, we’ll realise
The whole world feels this way.
We’ve all been living upside down
And turned around, with love unfound
Until we turn and face the sun
All of us, yes, everyone.
Mitchell calls the verse “beautiful” during their performance, and Seeger’s enlightened wisdom as a father figure to many artists in the folk-rock scene gets personified by his final additional verse in ‘Both Sides Now’. As a one-off addition to a classic song, it’s hard to imagine anyone better delivering those words than Pete Seeger.
Listen to the pair duet on ‘Both Sides Now’ down below.