Pete Seeger was responsible for promoting the project to build and launch a boat that would sail along the Hudson River, and, at every port of call, disseminate information about the environment and the perilous state of the Hudson River. Don McLean was a member of the first Clearwater Sloop crew in 1969.
McLean says: “This boat is an example of the Seeger genius because it combines the fun of boating with the seriousness of environmental degradation and gets everyone involved at the same time while also being a public relations dream.”
McLean’s work as the Hudson River Troubadour in 1968 and his experiences with the Clearwater Sloop in 1969 proved inspirational learning experiences for him.
He is particularly proud of a song that he wrote aboard the Sloop, called “Tapestry.” Its powerful lyrics are as relevant today as when he first wrote them. They provide a warning of the consequences of humanity’s exploitation of the environment. “If man is allowed to destroy all they need. He will soon have to pay with his life, for his greed.”
Despite its powerful message, the song is one of Don’ lesser known compositions, overshadowed on the Tapestry album by the giants, “Castles in the Air” and “And I Love You So.”
Don McLean has never seen himself as any type of ‘environmental activist’ and has avoided becoming a spokesperson for the environmental movement. He says, “Political people bore me, and I don’t want to be one. I’ll settle for being a decent citizen.”
After the first Clearwater Sloop voyage in 1969, McLean left the crew. Before he left, Pete Seeger told him, “Don, I think you’re a genius. You’re like a wonderful chef who serves a great meal once and never repeats it.” Don returned from time to time to perform at Sloop concerts. He also recorded a version of “Tapestry” for the 1974 Clearwater album and edited a book entitled Songs and Sketches of the First Clearwater Crew, with sketches by his friend Thomas Allen.
Later, in 1984, McLean played Carnegie Hall with the Jordanaires for a Greenpeace benefit. After the show, David McTaggart, the Canadian co-founder of Greenpeace, came backstage and told Don that his song, “Tapestry,” was one of the factors that got him involved in the environmental movement.
Since that first voyage, the Clearwater sloop has continued to make its annual journey with its crew of volunteers. The Clearwater Organisation has grown into a major environmental group that has lobbied Government and public opinion with great success.
In 2002, Pete Seeger was named a ‘Clean Water Hero’ “for promoting passage of and keeping alive the promise of the Clean Water Act, one of the most successful
environmental laws in this country”.
Adapted from The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly With His Songs by Alan Howard
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