I met Peter E. in his studio in Berkeley, California, where he builds metal percussion instruments. We spoke about what it means to be American and about what he would tell a young person growing up in our country today.
"It’s a double-edged sword, because we have this kind of image of ourselves [in America] of being number one. From baseball players, football players, everybody’s always number one, and we’re number one. And i grew up with that feeling, because I grew up in the second World War, and it was almost like when the Americans entered the European conflict that we were number one. We won the war, so to speak. And as you’ve seen we have a long history of wars.
And I don’t have that anymore, but it’s ingrown. It’s just sort of that feeling, and I don’t like it. I’m mixed up about it. I’m not a flag waver, but it is certainly an amazing place that we live in."
"How we were guided as kids, it’s how you give the reins of the horse free... Free rein. And that’s what I would try to get across to a young person. Though young people need guidance—you need to guide them, tell them what’s right and wrong, or try to keep them from getting killed—the other things they can find out."
"I was very fortunate to have the experience of having quite a bit of free rein to make decisions for myself. And I think one of the things I learned—and it’s an intellectual thing which I don’t really understand that well—is that there is a system, a definite system that makes us the way we are in America. The school system, and I think there’s certainly racist white protestant ethic in this country. So if I was going to tell somebody, I’d want to say, ‘Be careful of that, follow your dreams.’ That’s very corny, but that’s what I think.
My life had to do with goals. ‘I’m gonna be a lawyer or a musician and I’m gonna go through my life this way.’ Well, musicians are quite a bit different because it’s something they dearly love. But lawyers or business people, they went from one office to another office, these stairs. But that doesn’t happen anymore.” -Peter E.